Christmas in Morocco

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…in Morocco! With red and green displayed prominently 365 days a year, we have reminded ourselves regularly since arriving last summer that those are national colors, not a perpetual national state of Christmas. Yet, as in the U.S. and elsewhere that Yuletide commercialism makes a cultural mark, we have found the Casablanca march toward Christmas intriguing.

Today we fly to Paris for an overnight (a layover long enough for Charlotte to say she’s been to France) en route to the Pacific Northwest and Christmas with family. We began our travel prep yesterday at the Morocco Mall. Brian sat for an hour in Starbucks listening to piano jazz muzak and sipping Thé à la Menthe from a candy cane-festooned red Starbucks cup, waiting for the bank next door to open so we could exchange Moroccan Dirham for U.S. Dollars to fund our trip. Then, after it opened, he returned to his Starbucks seat for another half hour while the bank prepared further to exchange Dirham for Dollars. Morocco is a country that teaches patience. It is a country of inshallah.

The day before, Brian had gone to the downtown branch of our bank to withdraw Dirham that we could exchange to Dollars for our trip. Asking if he could exchange them for Dollars right there, he was told that the money exchange people had gone for the day and would return on Monday. But, the teller added, he could get Dollars at the Morocco Mall branch. So Brian went to Morocco Mall, much closer to our school and home and where he knows several tellers, and plunked down the stack of Dirham to exchange. “I’m sorry,” Aesha the teller told him, “I cannot give you Dollars.” When he shared that the main branch had said he could exchange for Dollars there, she clarified, “Sometimes…Not always.” Then, to explain a bit further after recognizing Brian’s befuddled look, “We have already sent our Dollars back for today.” Asking if he could return on Saturday to get Dollars, she said, “Oh, yes, we’ll have Dollars tomorrow…Inshallah.

While Brian waited at Starbucks yesterday morning to see if God willed that the Morocco Mall bank branch would have Dollars available upon his return, Audrey and Charlotte shopped to outfit Charlotte with winter attire befitting a visit to winter in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. While the Christmas impact in the mall was less intense than in any random commercial spot in the U.S. right now, we were still amazed at how Christmassy it was in this Muslim country. Moroccan elves had erected a number of thematic pens roughly five meters square bordered by picket fences amid the palm trees and other year-round décor of the mall: polar bears, Christmas trees, and signs (in French) pointing to the North Pole from inside a cheerful snow scene all invited mall rats to let the Season of Giving encourage a bit more spending on behalf of their fellow mankind. Lots of stores even had their own displays featuring Christmas trees, tinsel, wrapped packages, and more.

Just like used to be the case in the U.S. (before the start of the commercial Christmas season moved up to sometime around the Fourth of July), this Moroccan Christmas thing all started creeping up on us around Thanksgiving when we saw the first store decorated with a couple Christmas trees. Our favorite doff to the Season appeared a couple weeks ago when we made our weekly French bakery stop at Amoud Boulangerie to pick up m’semen for Charlotte. Parking on the curb outside Amoud and waving to the parking guardian who greets us with a smile every week, we turned toward the storefront and saw outside the store a very Moroccan Christmas display that featured a snowscape with a couple Christmas trees and Santa’s present-laden sleigh being pulled (of course) by a camel.

We have had our own share of Christmas prep to get ready for the holiday. Charlotte, who typically switches her daily music to Christmas carols in early October at the latest did not disappoint. By Thanksgiving, Brian was in the Christmas carol mood with the online AccuRadio channel for Holidays providing morning background music while getting ready for each day. A couple weekends ago we went to a Christmas party for expats at our school. Everyone wore holiday attire, we played Christmas games, and a makeshift chamber orchestra played Christmas carols for us all to sing. Driving home that night from Dar Bouazza, a suburb 15 minutes south of us, we saw lit up in one of the roundabouts of the main road a tall Christmas tree with big Moroccan stars on it. And there has been much anticipation for a major coming-of-age event on December 26 when Charlotte and her older sister, Margaret (who is flying up to Washington after her first semester of college in Arizona), will be the first of their generation in the extended family to sing in Seattle’s annual all-volunteer/Overture-to-Amen Messiah sing-a-long. Three generations singing together…Hallelujah!

We did not know when we began our adventure what Christmas would be like here. We have found it very familiar, and a good preparation for heading back to the U.S. Tomorrow. After we exchanged money, we headed to the Habbous neighborhood of Casablanca to buy Christmas presents for family Stateside. Visiting Ahmed, a merchant whose talent with languages approaches the broad array of things available in his Hanout, he recognized Brian instantly from the previous trips he has made to shop there for gifts or knick knacks. Brian explained that we were headed today back to the U.S., and Ahmed jumped in to say, “Oh, so you must buy Christmas presents and come to see your friend.” He then pulled three chairs and a serving table up into the main space of his cramped floor and, sitting on the floor himself, poured mint tea for us. After tea, he showed us his wares and settled on a very good price for gifts covering Brian’s extended family, then wrapped each gift in newspaper and wished us, “Have a Happy Christmas and be safe traveling.” With our bags packed, with presents stowed safely in luggage, indeed we shall.

On your mark…get set…here we go!

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