January 4, 2007 Special Dispatch No. 1412

‘Confronting the Death Arriving From the West’ – Santa Claus in Algeria

January 4, 2007
Algeria, North Africa | Special Dispatch No. 1412

On December 24, 2006 - Christmas Eve - the Algerian daily El-Shourouq El-Yawmi published an op-ed complaining that Santa Claus, in full holiday regalia, was on the move in the streets of Tizi Ouzo, in the Algerian Berber region of Kabylie. The article described what it called the "Christianization" of the region as "the death arriving from the West."

The article comes in the context of an ongoing polemic over the phenomenon of conversion to Christianity in the Kabylie region. In 2004, Minister of Religious Affairs Bouabdellah Ghlamallah denounced Christian proselytizing, warning that it could lead to bloodshed. Several weeks later, in an about-face, he said that proselytizing posed no danger, and that "everyone is free to convert to the religion he finds right for him." [1]

Nonetheless, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has recently made statements to the contrary. On April 17, 2006, the daily L'Expression reported that during a visit to the city of Constantine, Bouteflika had said: "We will not accept our children being turned away from their religion to Christianity under the pretext of democracy," and that "Algerians will not accept another religion aside from Islam." [2] Several months later, the country passed the "Regulation of Religious Practice" law, which stipulates a punishment of two to five years' imprisonment and heavy fines for anyone convicted of urging a Muslim to change his religion. [3]

While there is debate over the scope of conversion to Christianity in Kabylie, there is no doubt that the phenomenon exists. The regional daily La Depechede Kabylie often reports on it, [4] and the Berber activist website currently features on its home page a link to a November 17, 2004program on the subject, that aired on the Franco-German Arte TV. [5]

While the vast majority of Kabyles are Muslim, they tend to be liberal and secularist. In the 1991 elections in which the Islamic Salvation Front won the landslide victory that led to civil war, Kabylie was one of the few regions that did not grant them a majority.

The following are excerpts from the El-Shourouq El-Yawmi article:

"Santa Claus Came Down… Without Asking Permission"

"We couldn’t believe what our eyes saw as we roamed the streets of Tizi Ouzo. If it were not for this photo caught by our camera, we would have said we were lying, and you would have said we were lying as well - and rightfully so.

"'Santa Claus' came down to the streets of Tizi Ouzo, without asking permission, and here he is… making the rounds gleefully in his carriage full of bells, attracting people who are weak in their faith and distributing 'presents' to them in the name of the Lord 'Jesus.' All this happens without anyone saying anything or raising any objection, from the Ministry of Religious Affairs to the last of those authorities who are zealous for Islam.

"Whoever walks through the streets of the Tizi Ouzo district these days will run up against the strange cultural turning away from Islamic principles, in that the city's streets show the distinctive signs of the Christian New Year holiday. This phenomenon is not limited to the Tizi Ouzo district, but [also] encompasses some of the country's major districts, and is expressed in what we see - namely, that the preparations for celebrating this occasion are comparable [in scope] to the preparations for [Islamic] religious or national celebrations, sometimes even outdoing them.

"Anyone who wanders among the food shops in this city will notice that they are devoting themselves to making Christmas cakes… The owner of one of the shops told us that on the eve of the holiday, the demand for these cakes exceeded the supply, despite their high price… He also said that sometimes, the lines of citizens who won't do without these cakes even reach outside the shop. This reflects the devotion of some residents of this region to this occasion [i.e. Christmas]. In addition, the streets of Tizi Ouzo are not without stores selling Christmas trees…"

The Goats Drawing Santa's Carriage Show "Signs of Distress at the Imitation of Christians"

"What adds to the impression this occasion leaves on people's souls is 'Santa Claus' coming in his legendary carriage, decorated in red, full of bells, and drawn by two goats - except that these goats come from the native mountains of Tizi-Ouzo, and not from… the Alps in Europe… These goats show signs of distress at the imitation of Christians - distress that we did not see on the face of the one who forced them to take part in such a scene. People swarmed around this procession to take souvenir photos…

"The holiday atmosphere on the Christian New Year is evident also in the fact that the large square in the city center is decorated with red lights, and the shops write on their windows 'Happy [New] Year' in French.

"Faced with this shedding of principles of faith and culture, the mosques, in the region and beyond it, continue striving to awaken these people from their Western intoxication - especially in these kinds of regions [i.e. Berber regions] and on these kinds of occasions [i.e. Christian holidays], where religious awareness is so lacking that tears of grief are shed."

"Santa Claus Appearing… is a Sure Sign of the Swiftly Descending Danger"

"It appears that the fears… concerning the Christianization of the Kabylie region have in effect come true this time, and it has become clear that President Bouteflika's admonition to the region's population to uphold Islam and not to surrender to the lures of Christianization… stemmed from knowledge of what is going on there. 'Santa Claus' appearing there, overtly this time, is a sure sign of the swiftly descending danger that has come into [our] Algerian home. Will the relevant authorities - and first and foremost the Ministry of Religious Affairs - seize the initiative, or will [Algeria] be left to its own devices, in confronting the death arriving from the West?" [6]

[1] El-Watan (Algeria), October 17, 2004.

[2] L'Expression (Algeria), April 17, 2006.

[3], citing

[4] See, for instance, T. Ould Amar's article "Jesus en Kabyle" (December 28, 2006), and Mourad Hammami, "Le Christianisme gagne du terrain en Kabylie" (September 10, 2006).


[6] El-Shourouq El-Yawmi (Algeria), December 24, 2006.

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