Santa has paved his merry way into the heart and soul of Northern Africa, a Muslim-majority region. Decorated Christmas trees, mistletoes and artificial snow have invaded large portions of Casablanca, Tunis and Algiers in recent years.
Christmas in the Islamic Meghreb is no longer the preserve of Western or Christian tourists or expatriates. Algerians, Tunisians and Moroccans have in recent years gravitated towards the so-called magical season. Many north Africans do not see any contradiction with their Muslim faith. It has, on the contrary, become the excuse to spend an intimate and festive time with one’s family.
Christmas trees, mistletoe garlands, figurines and artificial snow have become a not-so-unusual sight during the month of December in North African capitals in recent years.
For the local press, Christmas shopping has become a perennial subject. It can now be compared with school reopening when parents march out of their respective homes and go scouting for scholastic items for their wards, braving congested roads with heavy prospectuses tucked under their armpits. Christmas shopping has become almost as important as Mother’s Day and Ramadan.
Leading the way, with her mother and daughter tugging along, to buy a Christmas tree at Maarif, a neighborhood in Casablanca known for its large supermarkets and skyline, Meryem explains that “Christmas is as sacred to me as the Eid. It offers a new opportunity for family outings and friendly get-togethers.”
Notwithstanding its growing popularity, Christmas trees remain ostentatious products that are aimed at Morocco’s wealthier middle class. In the less wealthy neighborhoods, people tend to console themselves with the famous French Christmas Yule log cake, known as “la bûche de Noël.”
“Just like mutton and the Eid], families without a lot of means take advantage of Christmas and the New Year to enjoy fine pastry,” Brahim, a baker in Casablanca, tells [Au fait Maroc.
It is the same story in Tunis, where Christmas, once limited to resort hotels and expatriate homes, has now become the order of the day, with supermarket shelves bearing testimony.
According to Global Tunisie, a local online journal, Tunisian children went haywire dictating their wish-lists to their parents across malls in the northern African country’s capital, a few days before Christmas.
“A little girl of five years pulled her mother by the arm until they got to the Christmas section (…) pointing to a spray that mimicks the effect of snow. The child’s mother smiled and told her that she already had everything she needed at home.
“At the same section, a 4-year-old boy was thumping his feet to attract his mother’s attention to a Christmas tree. And without hesitating, she told him to pick one.”
But just like Casablanca, Tunis does not confuse Christmas with Christianity. “It has no religious connotation because we are Muslims above all else,” says Asma, a young mother. This despite the name of Jesus Christ being implicit in the holiday’s name.
Meanwhile, in Algeria, where most people are against practices which they claim were “imported from abroad,” families are even more likely to succumb to the charm of Christmas, says Le Soir d’Algerie.
“We celebrate Muslim religious holidays without fail, but we have always celebrated Christmas with our families without any religious implications,” a young woman told the Algerian newspaper.
Le Soir d’Algerie also announced a shortage of Christmas trees for the holidays: “In the capital [Algiers], the much coveted tree is becoming increasingly rare. Finding Christmas trees, which were readily available in previous years, is now almost impossible to find on the market.”
The craze was such that some, put off by the ludicrous prices of the few available trees, did not hesitate to brave thick forests with machetes and axes in hand to get their own Christmas trees.
Algerian national radio, like last year, broadcast Midnight Mass live from the Church of Our Lady of Africa in Algiers where restoration works have recently been completed.