Celebrating Christmas in the Middle East

The Facebook page, "My Treedom" and its matching hashtag on other social media platforms, #MyTreedom, has recently garnered widespread attention. It's a collection of user-submitted photos showing Christmas celebrations often from places where celebrating is banned and outward displays are cause for persecution. Started in early December by New York-based foreign affairs journalist Lisa Daftari, the page has over 27,000 likes as of today.The goal: "celebrating freedom from persecution and the right to Christmas everywhere around the world." This seven-minute audio interview features Lisa Daftari sharing her reasons for starting the page and compiling these photos.

"All you see in the headlines are these horrific, doomsday prognoses. There are so many other, happy, stories that don't make it to the news, because we follow the rule "if it bleeds it leads"... But throughout the year, in getting to know my sources, in getting to know the human side, they sometimes tell a more accurate picture and one that's more encouraging in terms of looking towards the future."

One photo is of a small Christmas tree in Saudi Arabia, and the caption shares that it was smuggled in from Bahrain. In another, children participate in a Nativity play in Gujranwala District, Pakistan. The International Business Times reported pointed out the bravery of a family in Iran who are dressed in Santa outfits next to a Christmas tree, since open displays of Christian faith there are illegal. Scrolling through these images on the Facebook page, you'll find that almost all of the photos have pixelated faces to protect the subjects' identities.On the one hand, this is a disconcerting movement as it paints a bleak picture for what it means to be Christian. The persecutions and violence that many Christians face in parts of the Middle East, especially in areas currently controlled by ISIS, are very real threats. On the other hand, the resilience and dry humor demonstrated by many of those posting these photos tells a story of courageous Christians who are celebrating their faith even under duress. Lisa Daftari even points out the dual-purpose goal of these photoes in her interview. She says the photos are "a happy story" showing a positive side of the Middle East, but also a "wake-up call", to draw attention to the dangers at present. It's important to be aware of the danger, but it's also important to remember that the Middle East is wide and that conditions, politics, law, and culture vary country to country. Celebrations in Bethlehem and Jerusalem this year are reported as subdued, but here it's less because of persecution and more out of respect for the dead and due to the violence and volatility of the region in November and December this year. However, despite lessened tourism and the "partying" toned down, the religious events will continue. From the Washington Post: "They lit the Christmas tree in Manger Square last week, but instead of the usual fireworks, the churches rang their bells. The annual procession from Jerusalem’s Old City to Bethlehem will proceed."Another example of open and festive celebrations comes from Amman, Jordan this year - a month-long Christmas market, "Christmas at The Boulevard". A blogger for Al-Arabiya described it this way: "the Christmas season in Jordan’s capital city of Amman embodies some of the region’s religious festivities, the unity that exists between Christians and Muslims, and the peacefulness that is instilled within the hearts of many Arabs."It seems like the #MyTreedom movement has the right idea. Celebrate the ability of people around the world to practice their faith peacefully, but do so while being aware of the incredible courage it can take.Header and Feat. Photo credits: Elan Magazine and Middleeastmonitor.com