LEBANON: First-ever joint Muslim-Christian holiday celebrates Virgin Mary

The Lebanese government has adopted Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s proposal to make the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25 a joint national holiday for Christians and Muslims, the Lebanese daily An-Nahar reported (in Arabic) on Friday.

The Feast of the Annunciation, which is called “Lady Day” in other countries, commemorates the appearance of the Angel Gabriel to Mary and his announcement that she will give birth to Jesus.

Mary is also revered by Muslims, who consider Jesus an important prophet.

A statement released by Hariri’s office said the holiday is intended to “celebrate the cultural and religious unity between Christians and Muslims.”

But with 18 official sects constantly fretting over their place within Lebanese society and politics, introducing a new holiday is at least partly a political gesture.

Hariri was recently accused by Christian political rival Michel Aoun of neutralizing Christian political representation, and the Christian elements of Hariri’s own March 14 Coalition were vocal about their dissatisfaction with Hariri’s hands-off approach to disarming the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, as demanded by the United Nations.

Hariri appears to be smoothing things over with his Christian allies with the introduction of this new holiday and his visit to the Vatican on Saturday