Christmas Souks in Amman: Discovering the City's Winter Spirit

The cold has come. The sharpness of the winter air mixes with the warmth of chimney smoke incense to create an instant memory. Gathered year after year, those remembrances culminate into an instinctive winter-time feeling that is: the Christmas spirit.
As of last week, I hadn't really felt the Christmas spirit in Amman. There were no blackout sales. Stores maintained their regular hours. "Jingle Bells" did not become the default soundtrack of every car ride, store visit, or elevator ride. The days got quieter and as university students and cross-continent commuters returned home for the holidays, it seemed as though the entire city was entering a grizzly bear-style hibernation. At least that's what I observed from the warmth of my double-comforter bed.
But after a few days indoors I decided it was time to venture out in search of the city's Christmas spirit and hit the Christmas market circuit. 
Right now, Amman's cottage industry is in full swing with holiday charity concerts, chocolate-making workshops, handicraft bazaars and regional art exhibits. My first stop was to ArtMedium's Holiday Souq Fann, an art market that debuted the Middle East's first t-shirt print response to PSY's contribution to our global musical heritage: Abu Ghannam style.
The Souq took place at a reused electricity company hangar at Ras Al Ain and showcased Mike Derderian originals at Mlabbas clothing, Shakshaka jewelry made by high-school ingenue Yasmine Al Masry, and Ukrainian mosaic Christmas eggs, hand painted in Jordan. Homespun creativity was the norm; it wasn't uncommon to find a teenager with a straight-A average and a bubbly social life running her own cupcake business on the side, or a funky-fruity caramel maker churning out jeweled candy apples and buttery almond brittle "just for fun."
My next stop was the Nine Days of Christmas Festival, an event organized by Friends of Jordan, an NGO whose members are often the driving force behind city's cultural events. The festival's Christmas market attracted a network of Jordan's non-profit and socially-conscious ventures. Shams Jordanie, a French non-profit operating art co-operatives and organic farmers markets sold local olive oil and za'atar, while next door the Promise Welfare Society sold homemade pumpkin, strawberry, and citrus jams alongside pickled makdous eggplants to fund college scholarships in underprivileged communities.
Another evening was spent listening to the holiday concert put on by Dozan wa Awtar, Amman's multicultural choral group, and attending the Marriott's Christmas tree lighting festival. Something about the three-storey evergreen, the 20 elaborate gingerbread houses, and the eggnog-flavored sahlab made that hotel lobby one of the happiest places in Amman that night.
My last stop on the Christmas circuit was Souk Jara's Art of Christmas Souk. Aptly named, the Souk Jara Christmas Souk was like two souks in one, with handmade Syrian silk brocade, heavenly gingerbread cookies, "nummy" blueberry cheesecake cups, and even an old friend: Jawi Coffee Roasters.
By the time I returned home to the warmth of my double-comforter bed, I felt like I'd found Amman's Christmas spirit. And it wasn't just the carol singers, or the Christmas trees, or the awkward Santas. It wasn't the eggnog, the gingerbread houses, or Abu Ghannam's dance moves. It was the sense of community, of surprise meeting in common places, the sense of entrepreneurship, inspiringly charming and uncompromisingly diligent, and the sense of giving, whether through art, music, or food.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays everyone!