Rising prices steal the joy of Christmas in Latakia

A man dressed as Santa Claus distributes gifts to children in the city of Latakia – December 21, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Linda Ali)

A man dressed as Santa Claus distributes gifts to children in the city of Latakia – December 21, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Linda Ali)

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Celebrating the usual Christmas rituals in Latakia is no longer an easy task, nor is it affordable for the majority of the celebrants, with significant increases in the prices of Christmas necessities such as decorations and food.

“Abu Bero” (72 years old), a retired employee living in the Zira’a neighborhood of Latakia, recalled how, in 2009, Christmas supplies including clothes, decorations, and food cost no more than 15,000 Syrian pounds at minimum. Today, if he wanted to purchase the same items for his family, it would cost him over 20 million pounds.

The minimum government salary is 186,000 pounds (1 USD = 14,200 pounds).

Abu Bero added that he used to gather his family every Christmas Eve, celebrating with his children and grandchildren, totaling more than 15 persons. However, this year, he won’t be able to afford the cost of food, especially following the increase in the price of chicken to over 130,000 pounds per chicken, while the family needs at least five chickens, not to mention the cost of other evening essentials such as drinks, nuts, sweets and side dishes like kibbeh and others.

Therefore, all family members agreed to share the costs, dividing the amount among themselves, and even after the division, each of the four children will have to pay at least 300,000 pounds.

The stuffed chicken dish with freekeh or rice or yabraq (rolled grape leaves) is the main dish for Christmas. Some families substitute chicken with turkey, but the price of the latter has been a barrier for many families this year, reaching 325,000 pounds.

The same applies to sweets, which are essential for Christmas rituals, especially certain types of cakes and “bûche de Noël,” a log-shaped cake. The price varies based on size, for example, a cake for five people ranges between 100,000 and 175,000 pounds, while for 20 people, which is the most sought after, it ranges between 300,000 and 500,000 pounds approximately.

Likewise, chocolates in the shape of Santa Claus and Christmas trees are considered must-haves for Christmas. Many locals have resorted to making them at home by buying chocolate molds, melting the chocolate, pouring it into special molds, and decorating it, saving a lot of money, such as Rose (50 years old), who has been doing this for four years and is considering turning it into a profession soon after retiring from her government job.

Rose stated that the price of one piece of chocolate in the shape of a Christmas tree ranges between 6000 and 10,000 pounds, while it didn’t cost her more than 3000 pounds to make it at home.

She added that it is painful to exploit the holiday season to make profits at the expense of poor people, who dream of experiencing at least one beautiful day during the year.

Remittances save some families

Remittances have been a significant lifeline for some locals, especially as the majority of Christian families in Latakia have relatives living abroad, whether siblings or children.

Nermin (34 years old), who works as a translator, stated that her sister, residing in Canada, sent the family a sum of 2500 euros (1 euro equals 15,600 pounds), which was divided among the family and was sufficient to buy all the necessities, including clothes.

Nermin further explained that the price of her clothes amounted to 1.8 million pounds, including a dress, jacket, and winter shoes, while the price of one suit for each child in the family ranged between 700,000 and 1 million pounds.

The churches provide amounts as an aid for their parishioners, and there are special amounts allocated for Christmas distributed among the parishioners, funded by the donations of expatriates and affluent members of the Christian community.

A Christmas tree in front of a clothing store at the Orange Mall in Latakia - December 21, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Linda Ali)

A Christmas tree in front of a clothing store at the Orange Mall in Latakia – December 21, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Linda Ali)

Christmas decorations

Most families already own Christmas decorations from previous years and work on restoring them each year, thus reducing the cost. However, the situation is different for new families who need to purchase a complete set of Christmas decorations, from the tree to the manger and ornaments.

Jabra (29 years old) celebrated his wedding early last summer, and the Christmas decorations cost him around 2 million pounds, despite choosing medium-quality items.

Jabra, who works in a commercial store owned by his father, stated that the price of the tree amounted to 1.3 million pounds, and the price of one Christmas ball ornament reached 25,000 pounds, with other types priced at 15,000 pounds. He mentioned that the tree required at least 25 baubles, while the price of the star placed at the top of the tree reached 50,000 pounds, with other types reaching 100,000 pounds, and the lighting rope cost 250,000 pounds.

The price of a Christmas tree in Latakia ranges from 70,000 pounds for a 50-centimeter tree, up to 2.5 million pounds for a large tree measuring a meter and a half or more.

Prices in the stalls spreading in streets with Christmas trees and decorations are similar, but it is possible to negotiate the price with the seller, unlike in larger stores.

 

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