“Alternative” Christmas Cards Highlight Realities of Middle East

December 23, 2016
Mary and Jesus in light of drone

This December, a British humanitarian organization released a special collection of Christmas cards aiming to unsettle traditional depictions of the Nativity.

The UK branch of Médecins du Monde, or Doctors of the World, is an association of medics, midwives, and psychologists providing healthcare to displaced persons in the Middle East. The organization reports that it provided services to over 580,000 people in Syria, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq last year.

While the organization labels itself “apolitical and non-religious,” spokespeople for the charity said that they capitalized on an opportunity to tie a religious holiday to current events.

“Every Christmas a romanticized picture is presented of the Holy Land of the past, featuring peaceful pastoral images that are shared in homes, churches and high streets across the country,” said the group’s executive director Leigh Daynes in a statement. “This is completely at odds with the humanitarian crisis that the region faces today.”

Mary and Joseph walk through a war-torn Middle Eastern city

The organization’s four limited edition cards feature traditional images of the Nativity juxtaposed with real photos from war-torn regions in Syria. One card features the three wise men looking up at a drone; another shows a pregnant Mary and Joseph walking through the detritus of recently-bombed buildings.

For Doctors of the World, the images are a striking opportunity for Western Christians to confront the contemporary realities of the region that gave rise to their faith tradition.

“We want to provoke a broad public debate about the effect of the conflict on ordinary people at the time of year when many of us are thinking of loved ones, peace and goodwill,” Daynes told BBC.

The cards were designed pro bono by a London-based advertising agency. Doctors of the World has said it hopes the cards can raise funds and awareness for their work. Their initial printing run of 400 packs sold out in a matter of days.

Mary, Joseph, and Wise Men hold Jesus in the rubble of a bombed-out building

As of June 2016, the number of displaced people—the vast majority of which come from conflict zones in the Middle East—surpassed World War II displacement rates, the UN Refugee Agency reports. The report states that 65.3 million people—or one out of every 113 people—on Earth is either “an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee.” That number likely increased in 2016 as Syria’s civil war led to the displacement and slaughtering of even more civilians.

Mike Oughton, creative director for McCann London, who pitched and designed the cards, said he hopes the images highlight the “huge irony” of Middle East refugees’ lives with idyllic images of Jesus’s birth.

“We hope to prick consciences,” he said.

--by Caroline Matas

Images reproduced with permission from Doctors of the World UK.