Lebanon’s dire economic crisis is threatening to cancel Christmas for many people. The Lebanese currency has lost more than 93 percent of its value against the dollar over the past two years and soaring inflation is making it difficult for ordinary people to buy food and medicine, let alone Christmas trees and gifts.
With Christmas trees now costing between $80 to $120 dollars, almost double a Lebanese worker’s monthly salary, some are resorting to telling their children that Santa Claus is sick this year and won’t be able to bring them presents simply because parents are unable to buy the gifts. Most are struggling just to purchase food and medicine.
The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, reports that 77 percent of Lebanese families say they lack sufficient food and 60 percent of them only buy food by running up unpaid bills or borrowing money.
Political analyst Dania Koleilat Khatib, with the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, said to VOA, “…although you may see some people shopping and think things are well, that’s not the situation for most Lebanese.”
“People who live from paycheck to paycheck, they are suffering big time. These people will not see Santa, will not see Christmas, will not see anything. You get shocked when you go to restaurants. The people in restaurants, they represent how much of the Lebanese society? They’re not 1 or 2 percent. The majority are very poor,” said Khatib.
But in the upscale northern seaside resort of Batroun, it’s hard to see Lebanon’s financial woes. It has just opened its first Christmas market which organizer Francois Baraket said he hopes will rival those in Europe in years to come. It has drawn Lebanese with money to spend, he told Dubai’s The National newspaper.
Dania Koleilat Khatib said those Lebanese who have money now receive help with hard currency from family abroad or are those who work with international agencies. Others may have been lucky enough to withdraw U.S. currency from the bank before the government froze dollar accounts. Christmas will also witness a number of Lebanese expats return home to celebrate with family.
“At Christmas you will see celebration because a lot of people are coming from outside. But that doesn’t mean that people are better off. This is always the issue with Lebanon because you have a lot of expats coming in and out. If we didn’t have this influx of hard currency from outside into Lebanon, people would be ‘dog eat dog.’ It would be much worse,” said Khatib.
The U.N’s World Food Program estimates that poverty in Lebanon has almost doubled this past March, affecting three million people compared with 1.7 million in 2020.