In austere Saudi Arabia, non-Muslim religious activities are banned in public -- no churches, no wearing crosses, no importing Bibles, and no Christmas. Expatriates and travelers in the kingdom have found ways to celebrate the holiday, but are generally advised to keep their jingle bells to themselves.
The country's hard-line religious police are especially alert in the days leading up to Christmas and other Christian and Western celebrations. According to a 2004 article from the Associated Press, "Christmas cards are sold under the counter and only in very few stores. Some florists discreetly sell Christmas trees, mostly artificial ones, and poinsettias. One florist told customers that several dozen fresh trees from Holland were intercepted at the airport, hacked to pieces and then sent back to Holland."
In a recent blog post, one American ex-intelligence officer who has lived in Saudi Arabia writes that Christmas celebrations and decorations are tolerated in Western compounds. But outside the compounds, no one should "flaunt the holiday spirit."
Not everyone in the Saudi government is totally bereft of good tidings. As David Keyes pointed out in the Wall Street Journal last year, the Saudi attitude toward the holiday season makes the 2011 holiday card sent out last year by Saudi Ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir especially unexpected. It read: "Behold, the angels said: 'O Mary, God giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to God.'"FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images