Christmas celebrations vary from nation to nation owing to the distinct customs, cultures and religious practices individual to each nation. Christmas celebrations in Iraq are unlike any other across the world. It was only in 2008 that Christmas was first observed as an official holiday in Iraq. Christmas is not a big celebration in Iraq since it is essentially a Muslim dominated country. Christmas trees are a rarity and decked-up houses, excursions, even fireworks or feasts during the Christmastime are hand to find. In fact, Christmas is more like a dedicated family day here and people spend the day meeting relatives, friends and offering prayers and sincere religious services in the local churches; Iraqi Christians prefer keeping Christmas celebrations simple and quiet. On Christmas Eve, families and relatives come together and women make elaborate preparations of cookies and special dishes for their children. Schools also play a significant role in Christmas celebration by giving a week's break to the children for the purpose.
Christmas Tradition in Iraq
Read about Christmas and its traditions in Iraq and Iraqi Christmas customs.
Christmas in Iraq
- On the 24 of December, i.e. on the Christmas Eve, families gather to celebrate Christmas. One of the children is selected to read out the story of Nativity—the birth of Jesus—from an Arabic Bible, and the rest of the family members hold lighted candles. While the reading goes on, a pile of dried thorns is kept at one corner of the courtyard, and once the story is read out, this pile of thorns is lit up and a bonfire is made of it.
- While the fire burns, a psalm or a religious text is sung. The burning of thorns right down to ashes is considered a good omen; it means that the family shall have a good fortune for the coming year. After the bonfire is completely burnt out, the family members and all other people assembled there jump over the ashes three times and make a wish.
- Likewise, on 25 of December, another bonfire is built in the church and the faithful men of God chant hymns while the fire burns. A bishop, who leads the church officials in the procession, carried an idol of Baby Jesus on a crimson cushion throughout the church. The religious service always ends with the blessings of the bishop.
- Even a bishop’s blessing is carried out differently in Iraq. He blesses people and touches one of the faithful men of the congregation with his hand. This blessing is then passed on to all the people beside and continues until all the people in the church have received that touch; it is called the ‘Touch of Peace’.
- Apart from this divine tradition followed here, gifts are also a part of the Christmas Eve. Here, Papa Noel, the Iraqi Santa Claus, brings gifts and presents for the kids like Santa Claus in the west. Gifts and greetings are exchanged amongst the families. Visitors are also offered special food and drink.
This peaceful and simple Christmas celebration enjoyed by the Iraqi Christians is poles apart from the shopping and fun hoopla of the west. And the faith that people of both places put in Christmas only signifies that there is no one way to pray and celebrate-whatever makes you and people around you happy is the way to go! After all, it is Merry Christmas!