Predominantly a Muslim nation, Iran has a sizeable Christian population. Majority of Iranian christians are Armenian-Iranians also known as Parska-Hye who follow Oriental Orthodox branch of Christianity and celebrate their very own special festivals and traditions. Apart from them are also Assyrians, Catholics, Protestants and Evangelical Christians.
Every year, the Iranian Christians celebrate the occassion by decorating Christmas trees, exchanging gifts, and attending services. During Christmas season, Christmas Trees can be seen from Windows in Tehran and north-western provinces of the country. Although a minority religious group in Iran, Christians of Iran are free to practice their religion and perform their religious rituals.
During Christmas, joy and merriment reigns supreme for the Christian population all over the country. Christmas in Iran is popularly known by the name of "Little Feast". Although Christmas has an official recognition in Iran, it is not a national holiday. The festival is preceded by "Little Fast", or 25 days of fasting from animal products. The ritual is observed, mainly by the Assyrians, from December 1 and needs one to abstain from meat, eggs and even dairy products such as milk and cheese. For devout Christians, it is a time of peace and meditation. The fasting is intended to purify the mind, body and soul to welcome Christ. Most of the community attend church services during the time. While the "Little Fast" is observed from December 1 - December 25, the "Big Fast" occurs during Lent, the six weeks preceding Easter. It is not until the "Little Fast" ends that the Christmas feast begins. The Christmas Eve is the last day of the "Little Fast" and even before dawn on Christmas Day, the people attend Mass to receive Communion. It is only after they recieve this Communion that they are permitted to break fast.
Thereupon, preparations for the great Christmas feast begin. Plenty of meat is cooked up for the celebrations. The main dish for Christmas Day is a kind of chicken barley stew, popularly known as "Harrissa", which is cooked in large quantities and is stored and eaten for several days. For Iranian boys and girls, Christmas week is the time for happiness. It is the occassion when they can indulge in joyous celebrations and gorge on delicious recipes once again.