Christmas in Morocco
As you know I am in Southern Morocco. Itís an odd place, so
where do I start?
When I first came here many years ago there was some sort of
frontier just south of Tarfaya. We didnít notice it, except that
at some point the language changed from Arabic to Spanish, and
we realized we were in what was then called Spanish Sahara,
which was a separate country. However, things have changed. In
the late seventies there was a great march south from Morocco
led by King Hassan the second.
The Moroccan march was peaceful, and achieved its objective of
persuading the people of Spanish Sahara to throw in their lot
with the government in Rabat, and what vestige of frontier there
was faded into history. Morocco now officially drifts down into
the wastes of Mauritania.
There was another border there. This was more rigourously
policed in my day. In fact, it was officially closed. I havenít
been that far south this time so I dont know whether one can
carry on south without hindrance, always assuming youíd want to.
Having said that, I hear on the local news that Morocco has just
signed a new accord with Mauretania, so maybe the frontier will
open again, until the next spat comes around.
But Iím beginning to lose my thread even before Iíve got
started. Yesterday was Christmas Day. I had intended to avoid
the festivities that in Northern Europe have been turned into a
long drawn-out nightmare of commercialism played out to the
soundtrack of that dreadful dirge groaned out by Bing Crosby.
Being in a nominally muslim country I expected to be able to
avoid christmas altogether, however, one does tend to forget
that Morocco is a mixed society. Islam is predominantly an Arab
religion. The population of Morocco is only about 30% arab. The
rest are mainly berbers, with a scattering of christians. In
short, there is not exactly a rush to prayer five times a day.
The inhabitants of former Spanish Sahara speak a mixture of
Spanish, Arabic, French, and some local patois, and there is a
history of Spanish religion across the country. This means they
My hotel has a large conference hall, and that was set aside on
christmas day for the local christians of the region to come in
and have their special service. It was a great deal of fun. The
noise was such that I couldnít resist joining in, and so I
shared the christmas jollities after all.
I would have liked to give you a couple of examples of the
noise, but I still havenít worked out how to do what I want
proceedings, but was asked not to photograph. Since I was a
guest I could hardly refuse, but I did record a lot of the
audio. Unfortunately, this was done on the iPad camera setting.
However, I canít now extract the audio from the movie, and I am
still trying to work out how I put a play button on the movie.
Without that I can only play one sound and it will start as soon
as the page loads. So, for the time being, no sound-track. Sorry
Inside, everybody was dressed for the occasion, in smart
expensive suits, in multicoloured dresses, with the kids spruced
up and formal, and some of the little girls with their hair done
up like the spokes of a wheel.
We arrived just as they began one of their hymns. Wrong word, of
course. This was a gospel chant, and it went on and on and on.
We had a female chanter, with a small but very noisy band
consisting of electronic keyboards, guitar, and drums. And then
we had the congregation. Wow! What a racket!
As the chant progressed everybody started to dance. Some
shimmied, some swayed, some did what I can only describe as a
slightly discreet dervish whirling, others were jumping up and
down and singing lustily, interspersing the tune with shouts and
whoops. Many left their seats and sashayed up to the front where
they formed a dance group. It was a whole bundle of fun.
We had three or four of these bouts of singing and dancing where
several members of the congregation got quite carried away, and
it took several minutes of shouting before they came back down
Then we had a sermon. There was a display board which started
off in Spanish, but quickly morphed into French. The sermon (in
French) ranged quite widely across the life of Jesus, and the
fore-tellings of his coming, plus quite a few jokes. The
biblical quotations were thrown up on the screen as we went
For my taste, the sermon went on too long, but we eventually
wound down. The final part of the sermon was accompanied by a
guitar, which gradually morphed into the next anthem, and we
were back to the noise and dancing.
Eventually that too wound down, and we adjourned to the back of
the hall for something to eat. Several tables were set out with
trays of rolls, cakes, biscuits, and so forth, plus orange juice
and mint tea.
The Spanish traditions have obviously been embedded in the
church services here. One which I particularly like is when,
during the last chant, people turned to shake hands with their
neighbours, and give a few hugs. Unfortunately we had no church
bells to peal out at the same time, which is what usually
happens in Central and South America during the observance of
I suppose all this appeals to my sixties attitude to life. The
music, the drugs, the friendliness. Church of England seems so
dry and academic by comparison. This religion is all about
listening to a story, learning a moral from the story, having a
good sing and dance, getting high on the musical energy, and
then embracing your neighbours. Now, thatís what I call
religion! If thatís what they do every sunday, book me a seat.
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