Lebanon News

Christmas is coming, but Lebanon’s crisis is relentless

A band plays Christmas carols as they join anti-government protesters in downtown Beirut, Dec. 22, 2019. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Instead of the usual - enormous, opulent and costly - Christmas tree set up by the Beirut Municipality, this year a “revolution” Christmas tree has been erected in Martyrs’ Square, draped with pictures and symbols from the protests that erupted across Lebanon on Oct. 17. The holiday season is indeed different this year and the Christmas spirit isn’t as alive as previous years, due to the economic and financial crisis overtaking Lebanon. People are increasingly becoming vulnerable, but campaigns to help them are also being launched every day.

“Christmas is not about money or gifts ... I’m trying to help those around me as much as I can,” said Rola Daou, a financial manager.

Nationwide protests have been taking place for the last two months, against worsening economic conditions that has left thousands jobless as well as the ruling class that has been accused of corruption and squandering of public money.

Said al-Hajj, an architect, said the New Year celebration will consist of protests, and said the people won’t be happy until their demands are met.

“The situation is very bad for everyone,” he said, adding that there are always people in need, but the number has increased a lot this year. “We have to be patient,” Hajj said.

With the holiday season in full swing, various groups were distributing free gifts to children in need, a group dressed as elves and santas played songs on trumpets and drums, creating a cheerful atmosphere for children and parents strolling through Martyrs’ Square. Songs widely used during protests were also played.

“What holiday?” asked Abu Fouad, who works in the sweets and patisserie industry.

Abu Fouad said people don’t even have money to buy food or water anymore and added “words can’t describe what is happening with people anymore.”

A woman named Samira said she will be putting food on the table and celebrate New Year’s Eve like every year, and that the dire situation of the entire country will not be affecting her celebrations.

In the Azarieh parking near Martyrs’ Square, inside a tent which is a popular marketplace, Amal, who had a stand selling crochet pieces, said she isn’t feeling the holiday spirit and no one around her is either.

“I told them [people in the tent] to put some Christmas music so we can feel the spirit,” she said.

“We put up last year’s decorations, without adding anything because these are exceptional circumstances,” Raymond Atieh, head of the Jdeideh municipality, north of Beirut, told Reuters.

“The holidays are coming, but they’re coming with a pinch. People are angry ... People are getting fired, paid half-salaries, or not working,” Atieh added.

Businesses have taken a huge hit as a result of the collapsing economy, with the Christmas buzz and traffic being very light this season.

Rafi Tabakian’s clothing store in a Beirut suburb is usually buzzing with customers during the holiday season, but with Lebanon’s economy in ruins, shoppers are in short supply.

“We’ve been in business for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said, adding that December sales have dropped 80 percent.

“Now we see customers entering, asking for the price, and then leaving. It’s scary,” Tabakian, who produces and sells clothes in the Burj Hammoud neighborhood, told Reuters. - With Reuters.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 23, 2019, on page 2.

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