Qatar, a Muslim country of approximately 2.7 million population count as of December 25, 2019 (according to United Nations estimates), doesn’t really celebrate religious holidays which aren’t of relation to Islam despite being home to approximately 195 different nationalities from all around the globe.
Anything that has nothing to do with Ramadan, Eid, Sport Day, or the National Day is generally celebrated low-key and quite discreetly not just in Qatar, but also in most of its neighbouring Middle East and North African territories.
As it’s not considered a public holiday, Christians—who comprise approximately 20% of Qatar’s population—celebrate the festive season mostly in private.
So for a country where the 25th of December is just another day, is it acceptable to celebrate Christmas in this part of the globe? The answer is YES. The holidays may not be observed in a great way out here but many of Doha’s hotels hold special events with some of them even organising special Christmas Eve meals; not to mention our Christian brothers’ and sisters’ efforts to gather their friends and family members all in one place just to commemorate the day.
If you’re someone who hasn’t been to Doha before, you will have to be ready for some adjustments. Listed below are six universal indicators that it’s finally Christmas once more and we hope that as you scroll along, you’ll have an idea on what it’s like to celebrate this major holiday in Qatar:
Symbols and decorations
The first thing that comes to mind is the iconic Christmas tree where all remaining yuletide symbols (such as Santa Claus, candy canes, gifts, lights, and the star) come together, specifically around and underneath it; And because real ones are a rarity in Qatar, they’re phenomenally expensive (although the fake trees are quite affordable). Our pro tip is: If you’re addicted to the smell of a real Christmas tree, you can of course go and sniff one at a five-star hotel. Some of these disappear for Qatar National Day on December 18, mind you, but most happily reappear afterwards.
Also, many of Doha’s hotels holds special events with ‘Christmas Tree Lighting’ as part of the agenda.
Christmas Eve dinners are a common thing in most hotels in Qatar and some restaurants. Some of them even serve guests with traditional Christmas dishes like turkey. Apart from this, five-star hotels also offer Christmas day brunch and lunch.
But if you have time to do everything on your own, then organising a Christmas gathering in the comfort of your home is another bright option. Super markets like Spar or even Mega Mart even sell special christmas themed goodies and enough specialty items to prepare your stuffing and pie.
Restaurants in Qatar shouldn’t be that busy though as many Christian expats leave for their home countries over Christmas.
If you are a Catholic, there are traditional midnight masses in Qatar—you just have to check the schedule. The Christian churches at Doha’s religious complex, on the outskirts of the city, hold several services for the month of December and Christmas day itself.
Still related to the prior indicator, if you feel like listening to Christmas carols, then you can invite a choir to your home and they’ll come knocking at your door while all dressed up in Santa’s suit!
Not every expat—regardless of his or her religious belief—is able to be with their families back in their home countries for Christmas. Some struggle to get the day off work, making them face the festive season in solitude. But after many years of enduring the pain of being away from home during this important occasion, most expats already know what it means to be away from the ones they love so instead of being all alone, a ‘Christmas Dinner for Orphans’ initiative happens on December 25th where people can share the time with strangers —a real display of the Christmas spirit.
There are obviously some elements of a traditional white Christmas that are impossible to replicate. Naturally, there’s no chance of snow in Qatar (although some malls have built-in ice skating rinks if you want to go so far as to simulate the icy weather found elsewhere). The good thing is: December is considered one of the coldest months in Doha so it doesn’t really matter if it’s snowing. For as long as the Middle Eastern heat is quite far from sight, then it’s indeed a Merry Christmas in Qatar.
The State is proudly multicultural and we think it’s fair to say that regardless of one’s upbringing, nobody can deny that the birth of Jesus Christ changed history—a fact that even Muslims respect highly.
Most Qataris and Muslim people are usually very tolerant about their Christian brothers and sisters celebrating Christmas. Some of them even join the New Year celebrations when they feel like having fun with their multinational friends. Of course just as we appreciate them being a part of our holidays and sharing in our festive spirit, it’s our role as expats to respect of the local culture.
After all, what should really prevail in our hearts is our love for one another as well as our gratefulness for the blissful life that’s been given to us.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Are you a Christian who’s based in Qatar? If yes, how do you spend Christmas in this part of the globe? Drop us a line in the comments and also, don’t forget to like and share this article, it keeps us going!