An ‘Alid Christmas in Amman – reposted 20 December 2022


It was snowing heavily in Alexandria, Virginia when I first wrote this.  The moment reminded me of the time in the ’80s when I was in Jerusalem and Amman on government business at Christmas time.  It had snowed heavily there as well, an unusual but not unknown event.  People were trying to cope with the white, slippery stuff.  In Amman I was staying at a very modern hotel with a large circular atrium that went way up into the distant heights surrounded by the balconies that led to bedrooms.  The coffee shop was tiered around the well of the atrium.  I think the hotel was the Marriott.  I arrived at night.  In the morning I went down to the lobby to meet the Jordanian Army driver who was to take me to army headquarters.  An enormous, decorated Christmas tree filled the atrium.  It must have been fifty feet tall.  It looked a lot like the tree in the picture.  After looking at it for a bit I went to the Qiyada.  Among the people I met with there was His Highness, Field Marshal Zeid bin Shaker, Commander in Chief of the Jordanian Army (al-jaysh al-‘arabi).  When we had finished our business, I told him what I had seen in the hotel.  He said he must see it.  We got into his car and drove back to the hotel so that he could.

The hotel had covered the tree with star shaped ornaments each inscribed with the name of one of its staff.  There were stars with names of all kinds.  There were; Marys, Gunters, Muhammads, Seans, Josephs, Ahmads, ‘Issas, Pierres, Ivans, Abdullahs, Muhsins, etc.  There were hundreds of names.

The prince and I sat at the foot of the tree, drank coffee and chatted.  He sent for the manager of the hotel to tell him what a good idea the tree was.  His bedouin soldier driver sat a couple of tables away staring at the tree.

Zeid bin Shaker was one of nature’s noblemen.  He was also an ‘Alid, a descendent of the Prophet, a Hashemite cousin of King Hussein, and a Muslim gentleman.

God rest you, merry gentleman.  pl


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122 Responses to An ‘Alid Christmas in Amman – reposted 20 December 2022

  1. Al Spafford says:

    Co. Lang: Life as it should be, you say it so well. A time of the year to rejoice for our blessings and to hope for what can be. Peace.

  2. Charles I says:

    Who can resist a gaudily bedecked tree, and we tree huggers love big trees.
    I could tell you its a shame we like to consume trees so much.
    However, in my cosmology that tree’s karma makes it from one perspective like a missionary in the cannibal’s pot – an honoured treat – respectfully incorporated, well, consumed, into the culture with great ceremony, bringing glory and honour to all involved, joy to those who see it, why even His Royal Highness paid a visit, obviously this is no ordinary tree.
    Looks like its in a lovely room, too.
    Beats going out as a roll of bumwad.
    It feels in Canada that the war on Christmas seems to have abated somewhat this year, maybe the economy meted out a dsash of humility this year.

  3. flite says:

    “… and peace to men of good will.”

  4. Fred Strack says:

    I remember the submarine I served on visited Toulon over Christmas in the early eighties. It was quite a sight to see the French Mediterranean fleet at anchor completely lit up for the holiday. Four of us went off the beaten path on Christmas eve wandering the city. I’m sure we were a unique sight (and smell – 37 days underwater does that to you) in a few perfume shops. Towards nightfall we made our way down a narrow alley and found menu with a single bulb lighting the door down the stairs below….down we went – and found a very memorable restaurant.
    None of us spoke French and the proprietor’s wife, who was about 8 months pregnant, spoke no English, yet we still managed a memorable meal. I still remember the steak with Roquefort sauce and Chocolate Mouse for desert. Unfortunately we were unable to return again as we put to sea again the day after Christmas. The French stayed in port. I think they knew something the USN didn’t care to admit to – that peace was already at hand, at least for a time.

  5. Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men (and Women)!

  6. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Extraordinary vignette. Thanks for sharing it.

  7. Brett J says:

    Agreed with Sidney – thanks. Just read Shaker’s obit in the Guardian: war vet, debt-cancellation, and elections; It was a pleasure to read of a (what feels to be) rare type of leadership in the ME.

  8. Term Papers says:

    It’s looking so charming. Just read Shaker’s obit in the Guardian: war vet, debt-cancellation, and elections; It was a pleasure to read of a (what feels to be) rare type of leadership in the ME.Keep posting.

  9. Yes we can all thank those neolithic types in the dark forests of Europe who saw the green of the tree in winter as magic.
    All trees are magical in all seasons. Call me tree-hugger!

  10. J says:

    Sadly it appears that ‘political correctness’ has hit the Tulsa OK’s officialdom. It is no longer ‘pc’ to say Merry Christmas in Tulsa, but instead ‘Happy Holidays’. It has been a constant assault unabated nationally upon Christians, the Christmas tree, and Christmas by those entities who appear to hate Christmas with a vengeance. It is ok to say Happy Hanukkah, or Happy Kwanzaa, but if you dare say Merry Christmas, they appear to blow a fuse and it sends them into outer space.
    So to you Tulsa officialdom, I say ‘Merry Christmas’, and you can take your political correctness and put it where the sun doesn’t shine (up your politically correct back-sides).

  11. J says:

    MERRY CHRISTMAS to one and all. And to the world’s scrooges (i.e. Tulsa officaldom), I say to you a ‘bah humbug’ that you apparently can’t be humble/smile/say Merry Christmas.
    Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas to one and all.

  12. Charles I says:

    Boy, I have trees on the brain!
    William R. Cumming you have it right, trees are one of the last bits of magic left in the New World. But not just magic. They were our home. We came from a magic place. We are magic, but we forget.
    What treats you share with us. Beauty. Camaraderie. Respect. Wonder. Humility. Tolerance. Enjoyment of the other. Gratitutde.

  13. Russ Wagenfeld says:

    Hi Pat,
    I was one of 4 individuals who had the opportunity to meet with bin Shaker for an hour during one of his visits to Washington. And you are right there was something very special about him.
    Merry Christmas to you and your wife.

  14. Cloned_Poster says:

    Charles I
    Farming Xmas trees with a 6/8 year rotation is more eco-friendly than plastic versions.

  15. Tyler says:

    Do you ever see the State Department “Growing up” and realising the need of Arabists once more?

  16. DanM says:

    I’ve always loved this story Col. Thanks in general for keeping this blog going. It feeds my head — and frequently, my humanity.
    The only christmas story i’ve ever written — note who chose to republish it.
    Merry Christmas to all, and better times ahead

  17. Nancy K says:

    J, I don’t like political correctness either, however Jesus has little to do with Santa Claus, over the top commercialism and Christmas decorations. Historians don’t even believe he was born December 25. It is a made up holiday. I imagine Jesus would be disgusted at way his birth is being celebrated. If he didn’t like the money changers in the temple, he definitly would not approve of the malls that start pushing Christmas right after Halloween.

  18. J says:

    Nancy K,
    By ‘officialdom’ doing it, they have caused hurt feelings/deep-seated anger in Tulsa that will result in a backlash state-wide in many ways against both individuals and parts of the Tulsa community which had no part in Tulsa ‘official-dumb’ pc stunt. There is nothing wrong with people saying Merry Christmas or any other holiday greeting, particularly since it was given in genuine friendship/peace towards all men. The Christian community of Tulsa has been standing up for other faiths, and when they’re now being slammed, those communities that they stood up for are now silent on the ‘dumbness’ of Tulsa’s officialdom’s stupidity. And don’t think that those that have been hurt by all this aren’t noticing the ‘silence’ of those they thought were their friends.

  19. FB Ali says:

    Col Lang,
    A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you, your family, and all who frequent your wonderful website.

  20. Bobo says:

    Oh Nancy, what truth is left in this world. With Santa Claus no longer a belief at ten years of age and now Jesus not born born on the 25th what is an old man to believe.
    As we have put our faith in an old Arabist with a twinkle in his eye who has been lashing those reindeer in government for years on end let’s hope that our presents this year mean many more thoughtful and stimulating discussions in the year to come. Oh, yes I promise to be more thoughtful and less caustic with my posts next year.
    May each and all enjoy this Holiday Season with friends and family reflecting on your accomplishments this year.
    PS: For my fellow Christians and non politically correct individuals Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  21. R.L. Kirtley...Yours in Peace says:

    For many many years,I have loved to reread around this time.. the short story ‘A Christmas Memory’by Truman Capote.It is such a warm,beautiful heart tuging love letter.I urge eveyone to fnd the short time to read it.It is on the web and there is even a reading by Capote.

  22. David Habakkuk says:

    ‘God rest you merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay.’

  23. Mariam says:

    Very lovely and important post thank you!
    Ultimately the exact date of events is nothing but an artifact of our limited human awareness. The moment of the birth of a Prophet is indeed great in the history of humanity; we each for himself/herself have the ability to infuse significance into the day and into what is being celebrated.
    Merry Christmas to all and Happy birthday to the living Prophet Issa, Spirit of God and His Word from an Arab Muslim.

  24. Robert Murray says:

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful story Colonel. It says alot about many things. Merry Christmas and comfort and joy to each and everyone!

  25. jon says:

    There is no need for the People of the Book to engage in hostilities with each other. At least over religion. In all cultures you can find people of wisdom and appreciation, too often a noticeable minority.
    Thank you, Col., for the parable. I’d like to think that that cup of coffee may have done more good work than sailing a fleet into port. May health and happiness find us all in the year to come.

  26. Fred says:

    I just read the obit mentioned in one of the commments above. Is there a good biography of Zeid bin Shaker available? He seemed to be a truly remarkable man.

  27. JTCornpone says:

    Nice memory sir, thanks for sharing it.
    My relationship with Christmas is more complicated than for most others here. If you should run into ole JT here on Christmas the correct greeting would be “Happy Birthday”.
    Best to all.

  28. Robb says:

    Thanks again for the yearly Christmas post.
    Joyeux Noel

  29. jr786 says:

    “His bedouin soldier driver sat a couple of tables away staring at the tree.”
    Can almost hear him muttering pleas for G-d’s protection.
    Deft touch to the portrait, Col.

  30. Patrick D says:

    Christmas of 1987, Col.?
    I was studying at Jordanian University and remember the region being hammered by snow. Brutal when the temperature frequently bobs above and below freezing in a landscape of rock and concrete buildings. It’s a damp cold one feels in the bones.

  31. Mr.Habbakkuk,
    That has been my favorite carol since first I heard it at Holy Innocents Church (Episcopal) at the age of 7 or 8. The first line is often misunderstood. “God rest ye merry, gentlemen” is in the way of saying, “God make y’all happy, folks”. Or, did everyone already know that?
    As an aside, Merry Christmas and Happy Christmas are perfectly appropriate greetings at this time of year.The day is celebrated by Christians, of course, but is also celebrated, participated in, or ackowledged by people of other religions; or, no religion. And, it is a national holiday here in America, thus being a secular,as well as a religious festival.
    Merry Christmas to All!

  32. ex-PFC Chuck says:

    Thank you , Colonel, for the snippet of memoir. Happy winter holidays to all, whatever your beliefs.

  33. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Wonderful post, yes…..let nothing us dismay.

  34. The Twisted Genius says:

    Thought I’d share something I received from my high school alumni association. May the peace of the season be with all of you and your families.

  35. Alba Etie says:

    “Silent night ., Holy Night, all is calm all in bright. ‘

  36. Lord Curzon says:

    Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,
    “Hark! the herald angels sing…”

  37. Laura Wilson says:

    Thank you for this story…filled with hope!

  38. oofda says:

    Shokran, Colonel..Merci Bocoup for retelling this great story.
    God Jul til alle.

  39. Basilisk says:

    I’ve always loved this story. The traditions of SST just get better and better as they are more and more burnished by time. I think somehow you have a created a very large, diaphanous family spread across geography and time. Congratulations and all the best for Christmas, the New Year and any other holiday you choose.

  40. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Well, we also need to pray for our Christian brethren in the Middle East as well as all those of other faiths under attack by the terrorist jihadis.
    The Vatican News services Fides has some reports:
    “Tartus (Agenzia Fides) – About 150 thousand Christians live in fear in more than 40 villages in the so-called “Valley of the Christians” in western Syria. The valley (“Wadi al Nasara”), a historical stronghold of the Syrian Christians, mostly Greek Orthodoxs, received in recent months thousands of refugees from Homs and other cities and provinces. Today Christians are under Islamist militias fire who have settled in the Crusader fortress “Krak des Chevaliers”, built in the eleventh century by a Muslim emir, rebuilt by the Knights Hospitallers and today UNESCO world cultural heritage. As reported to Fides, for days the militias from the hill on which the fortress stands, have been firing nonstop against the villages below.” ….
    “Latakia (Agenzia Fides) – In the area of Latakia, Tartus and Tal khalakh, and in the “Valley of the Christians”, “there is chaos: Islamist militias and criminal gangs are taking advantage of the situation of general instability. The Christian civilians are kidnapped and targeted by armed groups who have fundamentalist ideology”: this is the alarm raised by His Exc. Mgr. Elias Sleiman, Maronite Bishop of Latakia who, in a note sent to Fides Agency, expresses strong concerns about the fate of the Christian population of Syria.
    “Christians, one tenth of the Syrian population – remarks the Bishop – do not stand up against one or the other faction fighting, but just want peace, dialogue and reconstruction of the country. For our faith we do not believe in violence, but in reconciliation. Now we fear greatly the radical Islamists: there are many fundamentalist mercenaries who want to alter the nature of the Syrian people and incite sectarian war.”
    “The Christian faithful – he explains – even if threatened, do not take up arms because they do not want power. We want peace, not weapons, as pointed out by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Lebanon.” Expressing concern that Syria “will become another Iraq, with a mass exodus of the faithful,”
    “Hassaké (Agenzia Fides) – It is urgent to stop the “Jubhat Al Nosra” Salafist group that is spreading terror in Mesopotamia: is the appeal launched by the new “National Coalition of the revolution and opposition” (CNS) from the “Assyrian Democratic Organization” (ADO), a Christian group that is part of the Syrian opposition. In a statement sent to Fides, the ADO said it is “outraged because armed elements of the ‘Jubhat Al Nosra’ Salafist group, that fights alongside the Free Syrian Army, terrorize civilians and confiscate with impunity Christian properties in the region of Hassaké”, in eastern Syria on the border with Turkey. The ADO has a significant presence in the area, and many Assyrian Christians who fled from the village of Ras El Ain, on the border with Turkey, have fled to Hassaké (see Fides 30/11/2012).”
    Damascus (Agenzia Fides) – “Peace in Syria could be saved if everyone told the truth. After a year of conflict, the reality on the ground is far from the picture that imposes disinformation in Western media”: says a testimony sent to Fides Agency by the French priest Philip Tournyol Clos, a greek-Catholic Melkite Archimandrite, who recently visited Syria, by traveling to different cities, like Damascus, Aleppo and Homs.
    In Homs, called the “martyred city”, “opposition forces have occupied two areas, Diwan Al Bustan and Hamidieh, where there are all the churches and bishoprics,” the Archimandrite told Fides. “The picture for us – he continues – is utter desolation: the church of Mar Elian is half destroyed and that of Our Lady of Peace is still occupied by the rebels. Christian homes are severely damaged due to the fighting and completely emptied of their inhabitants, who fled without taking anything. The area of Hamidieh is still shelter to armed groups independent of each other, heavily armed and bankrolled by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. All Christians (138,000) have fled to Damascus and Lebanon, while others took refuge in the surrounding countryside. ”
    We can put some names on those high officials responsible for this: David Cameron, Tony Blair, Sarko, Hollande and we can include US officials such as President Obama, Donilon at NSC, Hillary at State, and Ambassadors Taylor and Hof particular…should we pray for their souls as they seem to be within Satan’s power?
    “…To save poor souls from Satan’s power,
    Which long time had gone astray…”

  41. Trent says:

    Merry Christmas to everyone at and on SST!

  42. Babak Makkinejad says:

    به فرمان خدا از دختر بکر
    هویدا گشت نوری ، شادی افزا
    درخشان کوکبی از زادن او
    به بام آسمان ، برداشت آوا
    چو ایرانی بدید آن اختر پاک
    فراز چرخ چون خورشید عذرا
    دوید آن سو، که آنجا شاد و خندان
    بدارد هدیه های خویش اهدا
    “From a pure virgin by Divine command
    Appeared the light that lighteneth man’s days.
    A brilliant star proclaimed the glad event:
    In the far heaven shone its ardent blaze.
    The Persian Magi saw, the effulgent star,
    Illumining the sky like solar rays.
    Towards Bethlehem with joyful steps they sped
    To offer Him their precious gifts and praise.”
    By Dr. Mehdi Hamid Shirazi

  43. turcopolier says:

    As you know there a Sura that deals with the birth of Jesus to Maryam. pl

  44. oofda says:

    Merci, I always appreciate reading that story this time of year. Here is another Chritmas vignette.
    I was told this by a retired Soviet officer when I was posted in Moscow.
    Once during the height of the Cold War in the 50s or 60s, the American and Canadian radio and TV networks were, as was their custom on Christmas Eve, giving news bulletins on the progress of Santa from the North Pole. They began the announcements that an ‘unidentified’ object in the vicinity of the North Pole had been detected by DEW Line radars. They gradually followed the track of the unidentified object as it moved south over the Canadian Arctic islands and into the Northwest Territories. I used to recall these and my brothers and I eagerly followed them.
    The radio and TV tracking was also picked up by the Soviet Military High Command, who deduced that this was a trick by the dastardly Americans to start a sneak nuclear attack on the Soviet Union by claiming a false attack. The Soviet nuclear military readiness/ defcon was instantly upgraded, bombers were being readied to sortie and so on. It was a perfect ruse de guerre, in their minds. Fortunately, a Soviet general who had served as a military attaché in the U.S. recalled the American/Canadian story of Santa Claus and his Christmas Eve (and not the Russian Orthodox, which is two weeks later) trip from the North Pole. He also recalled the radio bulletins that followed Santa’s route. He relayed this to the High Command, and the defcon condition was held in place and then gradually lowered back to normal, as the Soviets realized that this was not a ruse de guerre, but an event played out for children.
    Thus was life in the Cold War.

  45. seydlitz89 says:

    Col. Lang-
    Merry Christmas to you sir and your family, as well as to the readers of SST.

  46. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Yes, I posted that here last year already.

  47. kao_hsien_chih says:

    Merry Christmas to our generous host and everyone who contributes here!

  48. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Al-Imran- verse 45
    إِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلآئِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللّهَ يُبَشِّرُكِ بِكَلِمَةٍ مِّنْهُ اسْمُهُ الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ وَجِيهًا فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالآخِرَةِ وَمِنَ الْمُقَرَّبِينَ
    “Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah”
    Merry Christmas to All Readers and Correspondents.

  49. Tony says:

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

  50. R.L. says:

    “Villagers All, This Frosty Tide. Let Your Doors Swing Open Wide. Though Wind May Follow And Snow Beside, Yet Draw Us In By Your Fire To Bide; Joy Shall Be Yours In The Morning!”……From “The Wind In The Willows Christmas Carol”. There Are Many Versions And Other Charming Segments Of “The Willows” On Youtube To Take You Away And Lift Your Spirits During This Glorious Season!…..To The Fellow Lover Of The Capote Story Who Saved And Reposted It For Me(I Would Guess You Pat Or Some Other Southern Person) ‘Thank You’. I Will Reread It This Weekend With A Little/? Bourbon And A Few Tears…..For Everyone “A Very Merry Christmas And Happy Holidays”………’Yours In Peace’ R.L. Kirtley

  51. Charles I says:

    I live in southern Ontario, tree farming’s a big business here, then they are collected, mulched and given away by local govt.

  52. Charles I says:

    Born some time in March I’ve been told.

  53. Charles I says:

    Merry Christmas Clifford, I miss you here.

  54. Charles I says:

    Merry Christmas to all and Happy Hanukkah to those who have finished celebrating. My gp always does shifts in emergency on and around Christmas, a pretty thought but not a pretty sight.

  55. Charles I says:

    For some reason I felt compelled to reread Wind in the Willows just this week after some other media noted it, and it was a delight.

  56. optimax says:

    Merry Christmas, everybody.

  57. Lord Curzon says:

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year Colonel, and to all on SST.

  58. A merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all here.

  59. says:

    My name is Shaker Bin Zeid I am the son of Prince Zeid. My daughter was doing a google search on her Grandfather and found this article. I want to thank you Colonel for your very kind words about my Father and would love to have a chance to get in touch with you.

  60. turcopolier says:

    Shaker bin Shaker. I was very happy to receive your comment. I had the pleasure to deal with your father a number of times when he was CinC and then Chief of the Royal Diwan. He was always as I describe him. My e-mail address is I hope to hear from you. I live in Alexandria, Virginia. Pat Lang

  61. oofda says:

    Mange takk (many thanks) for relating that wonderful anecdote again. It is good to remind all that Jesus is important to the Muslims, as you noted in citing that Sura.
    God Jul og Godt Nyttår!

  62. Aka says:

    Dear Colonel,
    A Merry Christmas to you, your family and to all others who frequent SST.

  63. tv says:

    This is a great story.
    Thank you for posting it every Christmas.
    Merry Christmas

  64. MEP says:

    I remember being moved by this story last year and imagined……wouldn’t it be nice if those who label so many of their fellow man as the “other” could read and absorb your message.
    Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and thanks for the rerun, I will pass it on to several who need a lesson form one who has “been there”.

  65. MartinJ says:

    I am in Amman at the moment and there are Christmas decorations from the Dead Sea to Amman. Most of the upper end restaurants have baubles and lights hanging from various plants, while the hotels all have a tree on display.
    I also heard the King addressing a conference on the TV just two days ago. He said that Christians are an ancient fixture of the Middle East and should be defended as part of the culture and history of Arabs. He also said that now Muslims are also a fixture in Europe. A war of faith serves no one but extremists and isolationists on all sides.
    He is a rare voice of sense and compassion among the current crop of “leaders” in the Middle East as well as Europe and the US.

  66. sarz says:

    There is no woman mentioned more in the Quran than Mary, and no prophet more than Jesus. The tree traditionally associated with the Virgin birth is not a conifer, of course, but a date palm. So this celebration is very much an imported affair, reflecting the native pre-Christian religion of Europe.
    The author’s important friend is doubtless not a descendant of the Prophet. Like the family ruling over Jordan, they are something less, Hashemites, the same tribe the Prophet was descended from. The Jordan family keep making the claim, and westerners are easily taken in.

  67. Babak Makkinejad says:

    No – Musa is.

  68. Lloyd D. Herod, Jr. says:

    Col Lang:
    For me, Basilisk said it best. I thank you for reposting this story. It is one of the things that continue to provide me with hope. I believe it a good thing that you do.
    Merry Christmas and may you have a happy and prosperous New Year.

  69. David says:

    Thank you for posting this story again.
    A Merry Christmas to All.

  70. Thirdeye says:

    I’d bet that if the guy ever saw a Christmas tree he would think it was awesome. What’s to begrudge about people decorating their homes and gathering in the darkest days of the year to have a good time, birthday or not?

  71. APOL says:

    My heartfelt thank-you to ‘le patron’ for bringing to the attention of us westerners something of the inherent nobility of Islam, of which I for my part was (kept?)ignorant until recently.
    To this should be added the magnificent ecumenical poem of Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi.
    ” O Marvel! a garden amidst the flames.
    My heart has become capable of every form:
    it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
    and a temple for idols and the pilgrim’s Kaa’ba,
    and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Quran.
    I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love’s camels take,
    that is my religion and my faith.
    Thank you Sir and a Happy Christmas ( under Mordor!)

  72. mike allen says:

    Colonel –
    May you have a bright and cheerful Christmas. I hope the New Year brings you good health, happiness, and prosperity. That goes for your commenters here as well.
    I assume you will have a Christmas feast of good country ham. Please let us know how that goes and what all the side dishes are. We are saving ours for New Year dinner. My dad, a Virginian who settled down in New England, always insisted on a ham, collards, black-eyed peas. The ham supposedly symbolized happiness, the collards were for prosperity, and the black-eyed peas for god health – or was it the other way around? I forget now. Drove my mother crazy trying to find collards in the local grocery stores. She cooked it with good humor and grace, but she always stirred in a touch of sugar to the collard pot.
    Kooshy and Babak – I hope your observance of Mawlid last week was blessed.

  73. LeaNder says:

    The very, very best to Pat, his wife, his family and friends.
    I was very, very pleased when this post showed up again. In this sense: The best to the whole SST community who over the years gathered around him.
    Thanks you, first of all to Pat but also to whoever found his way here.

  74. Dorothy108 says:

    Thank you so much for another wonderful story from your very exciting life. I am grateful for all I have learned from you and the committee. May you, yours and all, have a Blessed Christmas and may 2017 bring us Peace.

  75. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Thank you.

  76. Phil Cattar says:

    In the south we ate black eyed peas on New Years Day for good luck in the New year.At least that is what I was told.Merry Christmas! To all.

  77. Pundita says:

    Colonel, I could imagine the scene, the way you described it. Next best thing to being there at that wonderful moment in time.
    I wish a merry Christmas to you and the committee of correspondents.
    RT reported yesterday that for the first time since 2012 Azizieh Square in W. Aleppo city held its Christmas tree lighting. There was an explosion in the background a few minutes later but it didn’t stop the celebration.
    “Balconies of houses around the square were festooned with Syrian and Russian flags, as hundreds of members of the Christian minority of what was once Syria’s biggest city, celebrated a symbolic return to normality, following the recapture of the city by government forces earlier in December.”
    “A brass band played seasonal standards, and many filmed the ceremony – an unusual sign of ordinary civilian life – on their smartphones.”
    Tree lighting and brass band:

  78. Sam Peralta says:

    Christmas in Aleppo.
    May the year 2017 bring resolve to President Trump to end the arming and instigation of jihadists in Syria by our government.
    Merry Christmas Col. Lang to you and your family. May God bless us all.

  79. kooshy says:

    Mike thank you, Merry Christmas to you and your family

  80. kooshy says:

    Merry Christmas to Colonel Lang and his family as well as all SST’ commentators and committee. Thank you for keeping up.

  81. kooshy says:

    Mike, in Iranian celebrative/festive dates, what is called “Shab e Yalda” which means the Birth Night, it is a very important festive night. According to some accounts pre-Islamic and post Islamic Iranians including post revolution Iran, celebrate the night Christ was given birth. This also the Winter Solstice. When we were child we were allowed to stay up this night, play and eat watermelon, it was a task to save the watermelons in basements from summer for this night.
    “The other name of the festival, ‘Yaldā’, is ultimately a borrowing from Syriac-speaking Christians. In the 1st-3rd centuries, significant numbers of Eastern Christians settled in Arsacid and Sassanid territories, where they had received protection from religious persecution. Through them, Western Iranians (i.e. Parthians, Persians etc.) came in contact with Christian religious observances, including, it seems, Nestorian Christian Yalda, which in Syriac (a Middle Aramaic dialect) literally means “birth” but in a religious context was also the Syriac Christian proper name for Christmas, and which—because it fell nine months after Annunciation—was celebrated on eve of the winter solstice. The Christian festival’s name passed to the non-Christian neighbors and although it is not clear when and where the Syriac term was borrowed into Persian, gradually ‘Shab-e Yalda’ and ‘Shab-e Cheleh’ became synonymous and the two are used interchangeably.
    Shab-e Chella was officially added to Iran’s List of National Treasures in a special ceremony in 2008.”

  82. mike allen says:

    Thanks Kooshy.

  83. Ishmael Zechariah says:

    Col. Lang, SST;
    Merry Christmas to you and yours. May the coming years bring better conditions to those unable to defend themselves.
    Ishmael Zechariah

  84. Jack says:

    Merry Christmas to you and yours, Sir. And Merry Christmas to all the SST correspondents. May this season bring good cheer to all. Best wishes, Jack

  85. When I first read this article – not long after I discovered SST, I think – it seemed like an evocation of more civilised times. Strange to come across such a gem in the frenetic muddle of the internet, I thought, and I suppose I’ve scarcely missed an article since. But reading it again, after the events in Syria, it seems now more like an epitaph for those times. We’ve never been angels when it comes to pursuing our interests abroad and it would be naive to expect we ever will be, but the cold-blooded targeting of weak or unstable countries with mayhem, and that as a routine instrument of Western foreign policy, must be unexampled on the scale we’ve been witnessing lately. There’s a hope that with the new American administration we’ll see a turning away from this policy. If we do then your efforts, and those of your fellow specialists, will perhaps have done more than a little to prompt the change. Merry Christmas, Colonel, and thanks.

  86. mike allen says:

    You are probably right Phil. It’s been a long time. I do remember though that Dad told us the collard greens (the collar of greenbacks) symbolized prosperity.

  87. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Dear All:
    All the very best for Christmas 2016

  88. DH says:

    A cozy story that gives hope for ‘A Concert of the Middle East.’
    Merry Christmas to all!

  89. Babak Makkinejad says:

    That time is past. There is now only the dynamics of spheres of influence and quasi-military alliances left.

  90. DH says:

    I have not read ‘Concert’ in a long while, but I recall Iran was to end up as hall monitor of the ME. I see things progressing that way, considering the common interests of Russia, China, and Iran in quelling jihadis. Obama after all, signed a deal. I hope Trump’s bluster is just rhetoric designed to put Iran on notice, and maybe renegotiate a better agreement.

  91. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I cannot agree with you.
    I think that JCPOA is only a cease-fire deal and not a strategic settlement. Furthermore, I think for Iran to become a “Hall Monitor” of the Near East requires her to become a nuclear-armed state.
    The way I see it, with the Russian backing and the blunders of US, EU, Turkey, and the Gulfies, Iranians have created what they probably never even dreamt of being a possibility in 1979; resurrecting the political power and influence of the Great King from Hindu Kush to the Mediterranean Sea.
    Not even the Sassanian Kings could accomplish that.
    Fortress West and Gulfies and Turkey are still unwilling to accept this salience which their own actions have brought about; in my opinion.
    I must state my deep admiration for the leaders of the Russian Federation; they obtained for themselves 4 Muslim countries as allies against Takfiris; all very cheaply (25 airplanes in Syria, a few hundred cruise missiles, a nuclear plant in Iran).
    Cardinal Richelieu would have been proud.

  92. DH says:

    OIC, you mean Iran will do even better than the Concert. I agree with your analysis of who shot themselves in the foot, who is in the catbird seat, and the likelihood of things going well for Iran. As always, thank you for your thoughts.

  93. Happy Holidays to all who come to read this blog. Your piece reminds me in some ways of the following, an analysis of “In the Bleak Midwinter”, which I wrote as part of a class on singing – performing this song was my final exam a couple of weeks ago – the text given here is partly Christina Rossetti’s, partly James Taylor’s. As Erich Fromm wrote, “The purpose of all the true religions is to help man overcome his narcissism.”
    In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
    Water stood like iron, earth was like a stone;
    Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow on snow,
    In the bleak midwinter, many years ago.
    Angels and archangels may have thronged the air;
    Shepherds, beasts, and Wise Men may have gathered there.
    And His mother Mary, in her tender bliss,
    Bless’d the New Redeemer with a kiss.
    What then can I give Him, empty as I am?
    If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
    If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
    What then can I give Him? I must give my heart.
    It was Francis of Assisi who developed the creche, or Nativity scene, as a devotional aid to help worshippers picture exactly the tableau which this hymn portrays. Rossetti’s poem mentions all the traditional elements, with one exception – she has pictured the Mother and Child, not the Holy Family – Joseph is not present in the text. Perhaps this omission is intended to leave maximum space for the singers, when imaginally projecting themselves into the scene, to take on a caregiving role. This is the point of the song – the one-sentence summary is “I give you, Jesus, who are both Redeemer of the World AND a helpless infant, my heart.” This tender feeling for the Christ Child ideally, over time, grows into a general spirit of benevolence – in which unselfish love for one’s neighbor becomes not just a phrase, but a way of life. As John Lennon put it in the song “Instant Karma”: “Better recognize your brother – it’s everyone you meet.”
    So: Mary, the infant Jesus, the wise men, the shepherds, the lamb, the oxen, the donkey – all these are exactly as depicted in the traditional Nativity scene. It is a stable in Bethlehem in Palestine, which is also – through the power of the imagination – enduring the very cold winter of northern Europe. Mary is sweet and loving, Jesus is a newborn baby, but not a fussy one, the shepherds are awestruck and rustic and respectful, the Wise Men have travelled far because of a prophetic vision.
    And the singer also travels far – through both space and time. The singer moves from narrator to participant in the last verse, and from an imagined physical reality – a shepherd giving the gift of an innocent animal, destined to become a nourishing and delicious dinner – through an intermediate abstraction – the Wise Man (or Woman) who knows what their part is, and has the will and the ability to do it – to the Call of the Divine, and the personal response of the human heart.
    Our author, Christina Rossetti, wrote the poem in the Victorian period, when England was at the height of its power and the sun never set on the British Empire. The composer, Gustav Holst (like Rossetti, born in England, but bearing a foreign-sounding name due to immigrant ancestors), wrote the tune in the following Edwardian era. tells us that “The Edwardian period was known for elegance and luxury among the rich and powerful in Britain but also for moral looseness and for a general failure to prepare for some of the challenges of the twentieth century — particularly World War I, which broke out four years after the death of King Edward.” Did Holst somehow anticipate the savagery of the World of War to come, and write his melancholy setting for Rossetti’s poem as a kind of counterpoint? It would take a very sensitive spirit to detect and respond to such currents.
    And war continues, but so does the opportunity to answer The Call. Christmas, and Lent, and Easter, and any ordinary day, continually offer that chance. As Jesus is reported to have taught, when he was grown up, in Blatz’s translation of Saying 113 in the Gospel of Thomas:
    His disciples said to him: On what day will the kingdom come? It will not come while people watch for it; they will not say: Look, here it is, or: Look, there it is; but the kingdom of the father is spread out over the earth, and men do not see it.

  94. Jack says:

    Sir, Merry Christmas to you and Mrs. Lang.
    And to all SSTers. Best wishes!
    This year in a forced break from decades of tradition, our extended brood can’t spend the holidays at the ranch. SWMBO however insists that we have our Christmas lunch there. My youngest and I repaired the outdoor wood-fired oven and made a long table and benches. They have been placed in a meadow surrounded by an old grove of redwoods that miraculously was untouched by the wildfire. Our celebration this year is to God’s Grace.
    To bring warmth to SMBOs heart I will cook goose and a rib roast. The grandkids have decided to make all the trimmings. We will savor the meal with a 1978 Merlot which was the last vintage my grandfather made. It is from a vineyard that he planted in 1918.

  95. Ishmael Zechariah says:

    Col. Lang, SST,
    Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Holidays to you and yours. May 2018 be the year when the honorable and the righteous prevail over Evil.
    Ishmael Zechariah

  96. David says:

    Many thanks for posting this story again. Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year.

  97. Christopher J Bolan says:

    I look forward to this annual posting as it brings back wonderful professional and personal memories of my time in Jordan both as a cadet (thank you) and during an assignment to the embassy. Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!!

  98. Babak Makkinejad says:

    If it becomes known that the 3 Magi were ancient Iranians, their effigies would likely be removed from all such scenes in Fly-over America and Elsewhere.

  99. Linda says:

    I thank you for posting this and for bringing forward the spirit of the vignette. Most of my Muslim friends celebrate Christmas as a part of their lives.
    Merry Christmas to you and yours in all if this community

  100. Fred says:

    Merry Christmas.

  101. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Thank you very kindly & ditto.

  102. kao_hsien_chih says:

    I’ve always loved rereading the story, ever since I saw it posted here years ago (was it 2009?) I’m grateful to Colonel Lang for reposting it every Christmas.
    Merry Christmas to everyone!

  103. wtofd says:

    Reposting this from Babak:
    Al-Imran- verse 45
    إِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلآئِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللّهَ يُبَشِّرُكِ بِكَلِمَةٍ مِّنْهُ اسْمُهُ الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ وَجِيهًا فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالآخِرَةِ وَمِنَ الْمُقَرَّبِينَ
    “Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah”
    Merry Christmas to everyone with special wishes for a joyous and safe Advent and Christmas to all Christians in the ME.

  104. catherine says:

    So agree !
    I come to SST as much for the Col’s memories and revealing stories as for his analyzing of current events.
    Merry Christmas to All. Be kind to every living creature on earth.

  105. Effinghell says:

    You are either born a gentleman or you are not. Happy Christmas, thank you for your writings.

  106. Just love that piece. As the others that get re-posted here. And the comments are living history.
    Showed the piece to the family. The blogging world is a god-forsaken wilderness, as you must know, Colonel, but they’re beginning to understand why this site is different. Unique, in fact. From all who, like me, are spellbound by its content, thanks.

  107. turcopolier says:

    bin Shakir’s son wrote years ago with thanks for memorializing his father in this way. I treasure that comment. That generation of Hashemites were notable people. The first time I visited King Hussein to brief him he walked me out to the car afterward and held the door for me. i am not much for kings, but …

  108. Jack says:

    To Col. Lang and all the SST correspondents,
    Merry Christmas and all the best for a wonderful and exciting 2020!

  109. LG says:

    Dear colonel, best wishes and prayers for long life and good health for you and yours.

  110. TV says:

    Thank you for posting this every year.

  111. Deap says:

    Ahhhh…Amman. A wonderful city. My home base was the very local Hisham Hotel in the embassy sector.

  112. j. casey says:

    Thanks for this, Col. Lang, and for the “Joe” story. Very moving and most welcome. Maybe there is hope for us yet. And please have a healthy and happy Navidad with your family.

  113. Artemesia says:

    The tree in the inset photo looks like it might be in a very fine hotel in Isfahan. Or maybe my mind is forcing the memory.
    Whichever, thank you for keeping your memories and experiences alive, and for sharing them with us.
    Merry Christmas.
    Behold the Star.
    PS also nice to Babak recalled to mind.

  114. turcopolier says:

    Babak (the real Babak) is welcome to return.

  115. Australian lady says:

    Thankyou Col.Lang for that heart warming Christmas tale.
    Much appreciated, and a Merry Christmas to you!

  116. English Outsider says:

    Colonel – was hoping that lovely vignette would come up. From this distant pilgrim, a Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours.

  117. AK says:

    I have always loved this post and look forward to it every year.

    Merry Christmas to all.

  118. Ed Lindgren says:

    This is easily one of my favorites of COL Lang’s postings to SST/Turcopolier.

    It nicely captures the spirit of the season and celebrates the brotherhood of man (I realize that statement is not terribly PC, but there it is).

    Merry Christmas!

  119. John I. says:

    Truly one of my favorite annual posts from our host, Col. Lang, although “Joe at Christmas” is another.

    A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to our host and all the committee!

  120. jim ticehurst.. says:

    Colonel Lang… Always enjoyed All These Storys You Shared on SST..and the Repost Now..You Have had so Many Interesting Events in Your Life..and Have Met so many people ..and Cultures.. Thanks for The Reposts…So Many Wonderful comments on This..And Many Good Names I Remember from Other Times..

    Thanks for the Recent Holiday Shares,,,Yiur Precious Nativity Scene..The Mauldin Memory…I continue, to Wish You,, Wife and Maureen …A Very Merry..Christmas…And Blessed ..Healty New Year..With Highest Regards
    Jim Ticehurst

  121. Leith says:

    Saint Nicholas Day in Ukraine yesterday. 10th Mountain Assault Brigade was handing out gifts and candy.

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