The tiny nation of Brunei has recently come in the news after Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah banned Christmas in the country. The conservative Muslim nation stated that anyone illegally found celebrating Christmas, sending holiday greetings, or even wearing Santa hats could face up to 5 years in prison! According to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, this law has been passed to make sure that ‘Christmas doesn’t damage the true beliefs of the Muslim community.’
But Brunei isn’t the only country the Grinch stole Christmas from. In fact, there have been 10 other countries that banned Christmas in the past.
Saudi Arabia is well known for its radical laws and beliefs. Especially when it comes to religion. Although only a marginal number living in the country call themselves Christians, most of them being American ex-pats, the country still does not allow anyone to celebrate the festival. Forget finding Christmas trees at the local mall, even sending out Christmas cards could land you in trouble. In fact, in 2013, more than forty people were detained for “plotting to celebrate Christmas.” Not kidding, that’s what they charged them with. Breaking the law can land you behind bars.
This hardly comes as a surprise knowing how the country manages to surprise the world with its weird laws time and again. Forget celebrating Christmas, all religious practices that are not approved by the supreme leader are punishable by the law. There are no holidays in North Korea, except for the ones that celebrate the birthdays of its supreme leaders of course. South Koreans putting up Christmas lights was looked as, and I kid you not, an act of ‘psychological warfare’ by the supreme leader. Things are a little more chill in South Korea, so when they received an approval from their government, they put up a massive Christmas tree just a couple of kilometres from the border. This apparently angered the supreme leader so much that he even threatened to fire shells at them.
As it turns out, Christmas is a huge deal in some countries. Somalia is one of them. The country has had a ban on the festival and New Year celebrations for the last two years, but they don’t shy away from announcing it every year just before the 25th of December just to make things loud and clear. Like Brunei, they too feel that Somalia is a Muslim nation and celebrating it might damage the faith of the young Muslims in the country. As reported by New Vision, Uganda’s self proclaimed leading daily, Director General of Somalias Ministry of Religious Affairs, Sheikh Mohamed Khayrow released a statement this year again reaffirming the ban. He said, “We Islamic Scholars are warning against the celebration of such events which are not relevant to the principles of our religion. Such events give also al-Shabaab to carry out attacks.
Al- Shabaab, a militant group in Somalia, launched a deadly attack last year on the main African Union (AU) base in Mogadishu as a Christmas party was going on. More than 5 peacekeepers and eight militants died in the battle which lasted for several hours, the daily reported.
Their story is quite an interesting one actually. Albania has predominantly been an atheist country. Since Christmas is considered as a religious activity, an official ban on it came into effect in 1967. Christians could celebrate and be merry, but only behind closed doors. In 1991, when the communist party fell from power, the ban was lifted and all was good again.
The communist-ruled China has banned Christianity altogether. But that doesn’t stop them from celebrating. However, it is not as big an event as it is in the west. Due to strict regulations by the government, the locals can’t do most of the things, like singing Christmas carols in public.
Fidel Castro played Grinch for Cubans for the longest time actually. During his time in power, any religious observations and celebrations were simply not allowed. He made sure Christmas wasn’t a holiday and asked the people to work on the sugar harvest instead. Thirty years later the ban was lifted on the 20th of December 1998, apparently after John Paul II urged Castro to rethink his decision.
Technically, Christmas isn’t banned in Japan. Christians comprise less than 1% of Japan’s population, hence they don’t really feel the need to celebrate it. You might spot a Christmas tree randomly in someone’s home but since it’s not big with the people, their government doesn’t feel the need to declare it as a national holiday. So do not expect a day off for Christmas if you happen to be working in the country.
While Germany might now be famous for its incredibly extravagant display of Christmas celebrations, some cities including Solingen and Berlin did ban it back in the day. It is apparently because Christmas is looked at as a religious activity, and since their political party, the Greens political party, was a secular one, they believed that such events should not be happening in public places. Things went back to being normal soon.
The time was mid-1600s when Britain was heavily influenced by a certain political leader going by the name of Oliver Cromwell. As a puritan (a group of English Reformed Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who wanted to purify the Church of England from all Roman Catholic practices) he ‘hated’ Christmas and banned it throughout the country. His view towards Christmas was a bit warped in fact. He was totally in support of celebrating the birth of Jesus, but didn’t want people to indulge on food and drinks celebrating it. Cromwell was a bit of a hypocrite though, some say he would eat, drink, and enjoy other recreational activities himself. Whattaguy!
United States of America
America was led by the Puritans during the mid-1600s. The General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony passed an order which said that anyone caught celebrating Christmas would be fined. They felt that there was no reason for celebrating the birth of Jesus on the 25th. They even termed the holiday “Foolstide”. The ban was eventually lifted in 1689, but the festival wasn’t recognised in Massachusetts for almost 200 more years, until 1869.
If you still stay in a country where Christmas is banned then, Jesus Mercy!
Wishing you happy and peaceful Christmas!