CAIRO, Egypt — When she lived in Saudi Arabia, Debbie Joseph had to have a smuggled little Christmas tree snuck into her apartment.
It’s quite a different scene this Christmas since Joseph pulled up stakes after two years in Saudi Arabia and moved to Egypt in July.
A teacher originally from Corner Brook, Joseph — who now goes by the Arabic name of Zainab Yousef Abdullah — currently teaches Grade 3 at Heritage International School in the 6th of October City area of Cairo.
“In Saudi Arabia, you couldn’t even say the word ‘Christmas,’” Joseph, a Corner Brook native now teaching in the Middle East, said during a phone interview from Cairo.
“Here in Egypt, the stores have Christmas trees up and people are singing. We even just had a Christmas concert at our school and Muslim children were right there, hand-in-hand with the other children singing Christmas carols.”
While there are many Christians in Egypt, even the Muslim population celebrates the holiday season, though not the religious component of the birth of Jesus Christ.
“The Muslims concentrate more on the spirit of giving and they put a lot of emphasis on the new year coming,” said Joseph.
Joseph never had to worry about a clandestine Christmas tree scheme this year. Artificial and even real trees are sold in Egypt and she recently had a tree-trimming party to decorate the artificial one she has bought.
Heritage International School is based in Manitoba and there are several Canadians and a few Americans on the staff. Joseph and her friends and neighbours have Christmas all planned out with each of them planning to host a special event each day.
“I’ll be doing Christmas Day,” she excitedly said during the interview, which was done prior to Christmas.
There may be big plans for the holiday season, but Joseph would love to be able to transport herself back to wintry Corner Brook this time of year to celebrate Christmas with friends and family, especially her son Daniel.
“You have no idea how much I miss home,” said Joseph, who is planning to visit Corner Brook in July for the first time since leaving around five years ago.
“When I see all this Christmas stuff happening, it hits home even more.”