JEDDAH/RIYADH: Christmas shopping in Saudi Arabia is unremarkable compared to a few years ago, reflecting a growing culture of religious tolerance and the pace and scope of social change taking place in the kingdom.
Nowadays, holiday gifts and decorations are readily available in many of the Kingdom’s markets and malls, with Christmas trees in the capital Riyadh, snowmen in Jeddah, and even Santa Claus appearing in Al-Khobar.
As many foreign expatriates choose to make Saudi Arabia their home, the government’s efforts to transition the country to “open and moderate Islam” has created an atmosphere that is more accommodating to other faiths and cultures.
The change allowed local retailers and e-commerce platforms to sell a wider range of products to those who wanted to join the festivities.
Saudi marketing expert Wejdan Al-Khatabi, who works at Napco National in Jeddah, told Arab News that this year’s Christmas items are selling well and are in high demand in Saudi Arabia.
“I work in an area where 70 percent of the workers are Christians,” Al-Kathaby said.
“Some celebrate in their country, some celebrate here. They used to complain that we could not celebrate Christmas here because of the lack of Christmas vibes or products. However, today you can celebrate with the whole winter collection.
Al-Khatabi said she and her son enjoyed decorating the Christmas tree at a Christian friend’s house in Jeddah.
“We ordered the tree from Amazon and the rest of the decorations from Noon and Mumsworld and it took a week to arrive, because the related items are now more accepted and shipped without any restrictions compared to before.”
The growth of e-commerce has allowed Christian households in the kingdom to find gifts and decorations and openly share their traditions with their Muslim friends and neighbors.
“We brought everything online and we were happy with the feeling of the event,” Al-Kathabi said. “I love it so much. And for me it’s the epitome of a fun summer, and it’s really brilliant to be surrounded by people with different perspectives.”
Alain Karam, a Lebanese immigrant living in Saudi Arabia, confirmed that finding Christmas decorations in the kingdom’s stores is easier than in previous years.
“Jewelry used to be found in some secret places in Saudi Arabia because it was not allowed, but now it is found in malls or nearby shops,” Karam told Arab News. “I used to go to Christmas markets in embassies where people buy Christmas decorations.”
Currently, some cafes and restaurants in Saudi cities and towns are transformed into winter wonders, decorated with ornaments and imported ornaments, and serving festive drinks in Christmas cups and glasses.
At Kingdom Mall, one of Riyadh’s most popular shopping malls, many shops are currently selling Christmas decorations and gifts, including French beauty retailer L’Occitane.
“At L’Occitane, we have a variety of Christmas packages, including skin care, fragrances and small gift packages,” said Wedad Al-Malki, sales representative.
“Businesses that celebrate Christmas often pre-order special orders with us. There is particularly high demand for Christmas packages from businesses that celebrate Christmas with their employees.”
Batiel, a cafe and shop selling organic Saudi dates and luxury gifts, has launched a new collection of tree and star-shaped gift boxes containing chocolate or stuffed dates decorated in red, green, white and gold.
Lilly’s Bakery and Coffee Shop in Jeddah offers Christmas products and a wintery atmosphere, with rich hot chocolate mugs decorated with gingerbread men.
Advertising agencies have also released new commercials full of holiday scenes, keeping with the Christmas theme.
Jordanian Neama Al Sabea, who lives in Jeddah, told Arab News that she will celebrate Christmas this year with an electric chimney, a snowmobile, a traditional tree and sparkling decorations.
“Special related items can be found on Instagram accounts, especially those located in Riyadh,” Al-Sabe said.
“This year I have a collection from seven different places, including red winter candles, wooden reindeer and little snowmen, and I’ve also added artificial berry tree branches next to the pine cones from the Seine, which is one of the winter staples.”
“One of the things dearest to my heart is a handmade wooden rocking chair, which I put on top of a throw blanket next to the fireplace.”