2023 Christmas Programs Changed Radically

Newly orphaned children in Mangu, Nigeria with bags containing gifts including Bible story books.

Back to Covid type programs: The planning was completed to once again have large gatherings of Christian children for Christmas in Iraq, Jordan and the West Bank. The large programs are more cost effective and provide a better experience for the children. During the Covid-19 lock downs the children suffered most.

Due to the government-imposed COVID-19 lockdowns, many of our Christmas programs have consisted of the children walking through a hall as Christmas carols played and receiving a gift. In some areas the children were able to gather in smaller groups in individual churches.

Until October 7th it appeared that all this year’s Christmas programs would operate as they did prior to 2020. We were looking forward to the larger events the children enjoy so much.

Then came the Hamas terror attack from Gaza on Israel killing over 1,200, wounding more, and taking hostages.

Israel mounted a military campaign in Gaza to find those responsible for the attack.

The invasion of Gaza by Israel has been labeled by Arab leaders as the reason to seek the cancellation of Christmas celebrations in the West Bank, Jordan and Iraq.  Why?

Explanation: Gaza is about the same size as Washington, DC. Gaza has a population of about 2,000,000, which is about 21,000 people per square mile. Regardless of where or how the Israeli army moves against Hamas terror sites, civilians are going to be killed because of the dense population.

Those civilian deaths became propaganda tools used by Hamas, and Muslim leaders around the world. Radicals in American universities supported the Hamas terror attacks on Israel and condemned the war in Gaza.

The war in Gaza became a weapon against Christmas celebrations in Middle Eastern nations that were majority Muslim.

Let’s get honest … Christians, as a small minority in Jordan, Iraq and the West bank had no choice but to agree. Many Christians received a pointed message that any Christmas lights or decorations would be met by violence.

Churches still held Christmas services, but nothing was visible to the public.

I could not risk the lives of the Christian children by holding public events. In the situation we faced it was best to reduce the profile of our events to protect the children.

The changes: Our Bethlehem programs were smaller.

The children were discreetly led to small gatherings. The events included prayers and hymns but no music or games. Children received age-appropriate Bibles and Bible story books. The smaller groups avoided protesters or the danger of attacks.

Jordan and Iraq: I didn’t expect what happened in Jordan. Amman, Jordan has huge malls with very high dollar stores that sell designer brands.

During Christmas the malls in Amman play Christmas music including hymns such as O Holy Night, even though the Christian population hovers at around one percent.

This is why it was a surprise to me that Christian leaders were easily bullied into “cancelling” Christmas celebrations. Of course, normal Christmas services were held but there were no outward celebrations such as Christmas trees or lights in Christians villages.

Christ-centered gifts were presented to all of the children in attendance.

I may have been surprised but I do understand. There have been massive anti-Israel demonstrations in Jordan. Jordanians have filled the streets calling for the nation of Jordan to go to war with Israel.

In Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank the children dress up in red and white for Christmas. Mostly the outfits are styled in a Santa Claus look …. YES, I KNOW … Many evangelical Christians are horrified by the news that Christian children would dress as Santa. But this is the Middle East not Ohio. It is not the same thing.

The red and white outfits are a way of displaying their identity as Christians at a time of year they can get away with being overt about it. It is a means for them to proudly identify as Christians.

For our Christmas events, dressing up in red and white was discouraged because of all the threats.

Iraq faced the same problems as Jordan. Christian leaders were intimidated to sign decrees cancelling Christmas celebrations.

Because the Christian population in Lebanon is larger there were no cancellations.

Lebanon is as much as 40% Christian. Christians in Lebanon have political power and entire cities and regions are majority Christians. The constitution requires the president to be Christian and the Prime Minister to be Muslim.

In Jordan, Iraq and the West Bank the Christians have no political power and can easily become victims of the majority Muslim population.

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