Christmas is celebrated by a small Christian minority in Iraq. Despite the challenges and difficulties faced by this community, Christmas holds religious and cultural significance for them. Here's how Christmas is typically celebrated in Iraq among the Christian population:
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are marked by special church services, with the midnight Mass being the most significant. Churches are beautifully decorated with lights and ornaments for the occasion.
Nativity scenes, depicting the birth of Jesus, are set up in homes and churches. These scenes are a symbolic representation of the Christmas story.
Some Christian households decorate Christmas trees and their homes with lights, ornaments, and other festive decorations. However, the scale of decorations can vary based on the security situation in their area.
Caroling is a cherished tradition among Iraqi Christians. Groups of carolers visit homes, sing traditional Christmas carols, and share in the joy of the season.
Exchanging gifts is a common practice during Christmas. Families and friends give each other presents as a way of expressing love and goodwill.
Special Christmas meals are prepared, which may include traditional Iraqi dishes. Christians in Iraq have their own culinary traditions, and the holiday menu may feature special dishes like kebabs, rice dishes, and sweets.
Some Christian communities in Iraq use the Christmas season as an opportunity to engage in acts of charity and help those in need, especially given the challenging circumstances they face.
In more stable and secure regions, public celebrations, parades, and cultural events may be organized to mark the Christmas season.
It's important to note that the Christian population in Iraq has faced significant challenges and has often been subjected to persecution and violence in recent years. This has made celebrating Christmas more difficult for many Christians in the country. Nonetheless, they continue to celebrate and observe the holiday as an important part of their faith and cultural heritage.
Christmas Day in Iraq is celebrated on 25th December.
The celebrations of the festival here are quite different from the observation of it in the Western countries. On 24th December (Christmas Eve), an unusual ceremony is held in the courtyard of Christian households where the children of the family read the story of the Nativity from an Arabic Bible while the other family members hold lighted candles. A pile of dried thorns is kept at one corner. As soon as the story has been read the pile is lit up and a bonfire made up of it. A psalm is sung as long as the fire burns. It is believed that the way the fire burns signifies the future of the household for the coming year. If the thorns burn to ashes, it is a good omen and indicates good fortune for the family.
When the fire is reduced to ashes, everyone jumps over the ashes three times and makes a wish.
On Christmas Day, a religious service is held in the local churches and all Christian families residing nearby come to attend it. A bonfire, similar to the Christmas Eve one, is lit and all Christian the men of the congregation chant a hymn, while it burns. Then a procession is taken out in which the Bishop carries an image of the infant Jesus upon a scarlet cushion and walks ahead followed by the officials of the church. This Christmas Day service is quite long and always ends with the Bishop blessing the people and touching a member of the congregation with his hand. The member touches the person next to him who touches the person standing beside him. This continues until all those in the church have received the 'Touch of Peace.'
In 2008, the Iraqi government declared Christmas as an official holiday for the first time in the history of the nation. Christians form a small population in Iraq and they quietly celebrated this day, spending most of it in prayers and solemn religious services.