Christmas is a time for celebration around the globe, but this year Lebanon and the Lebanese will find it hard to enjoy the seasonal festivities amid what the World Bank has called one of the worst depressions of modern history.
Farah Fouad, a single mother, said that some parents who cannot afford gifts for their children are telling them that Santa Claus is sick and not coming this year.
Even the price of Christmas decorations are rocketing out of reach for many families.
Maroun Yousef, a father of three children who works in the Gulf, said: “I earn my salary in dollars since I work overseas, yet my wife told me that prices are unbelievably high.”
An average-sized tree costs between $80 and $120 —between 2 million and 3 million pounds at the present black market rate.
“This doesn’t make sense at all and kills the season’s spirit. Adults might accept the idea of not having a Christmas tree, but imagine how children would feel! This dollar crisis has been killing everything in Lebanon, literally everything,” he said.
In the past few days, the country has witnessed nationwide protests as the dollar reached the highs of 25,000 in local currency as opposed to the official rate of 1,500.
Reuters reported last week that the Lebanese currency has lost more than 93 percent of its value since summer 2019.
“It is ridiculous. A tree for 3 million pounds! That is almost double my monthly salary,” said Maria Michele who works in a telecom office.
“But forget about the tree, what about the ornaments! I guess we’re going to have a decoration-free season,” said Maria who said it will make her children sad. She even gets more worried about buying Christmas gifts for her kids.
In popular Beirut shopping districts such as Hamra, Mar Elias, Achrafieh and Mar Mkhayel where people usually get their Christmas decorations, it was noticeable how most people were merely window shopping.
Gaby, a gifts shop owner, said: “It is such a heartbreaking situation. Earlier this morning, a mother had to pull her crying son forcibly out of my store once she saw the prices of decorations and gifts. It was painful to see how she told him off for wanting to buy a gift he liked … but obviously she didn’t have the money.”
Soumaya Adel, a teacher and mother, said: “No dollar, no money, no Christmas, no decorations, no nothing.”
Mona Bassem, a mother of two, said she and her husband decided to “play it low-key this festive season” and had set up last year’s tree and decorations.
“We have started preparing our kids that this season Santa Claus won’t be coming, so they need to expect small gifts, unlike before,” she said.
She said her kids went “grumpy and sad” for a couple of days but they would have to deal with the situation as “we are going through very tough financial conditions. At least they get to enjoy Christmas spirit and festivities at school.”
According to a report published last week by UNICEF, 77 percent of Lebanese families say they lack sufficient food and 60 percent of them buy food by running up unpaid bills or borrowing money.
Khalil Faris, business manager, said: “It doesn’t feel like Christmas at all … we barely have food on the table.”
His cousin Adel said: “Even if we can afford buying a Christmas tree, there is no electricity for the lights. Everything is black and doomed in this country.”
Housewife Denise Ebrahim said that the economic meltdown has forced her to be “super frank” with her two daughters that “this Christmas they won’t be decorating or exchanging gifts due to the situation.”
“I couldn’t find any easier way to tell them, and they burst into tears. I promised them that if things improve, next year they’ll each get two gifts,” she said.