Christmas is a popular festival that is also observed in Middle Eastern countries like Iraq, although the celebrations are unlike that of their European counterparts. A small part of the Iraqi population constitutes of Iraqi Christians or 'Assyrians' who commemorate the joyous occasion of the birth of Jesus annually. In Iraq, the Christmas celebrations are serene and peaceful. The people enjoy Christmas, by attending religious services at church and performing various Assyrian customs. A popular custom includes the lighting of the bonfire in the courtyards of houses on Christmas Eve. One of the children in the family follows the tradition of reading the 'Nativity story' from the Arabic Bible. All the Iraqi families attend church services and recite hymns and psalms. Another bonfire is lit on Christmas Day by the men in the church, followed by the procession led by a Bishop, after which the 'Touch of Peace' is carried out. Read this article to know more about how Christmas is celebrated in Iraq.
Customs, Traditions & Celebrations
The Christmas practices in Iraq are quite different when compared to other countries. In 2008, the Iraqi government announced Christmas as a national holiday for the first time in Iraqi history. Only a small population of the entire nation of Iraq consists of Christians and they are called 'Assyrians'.
Christmas Celebrations In Iraq
With great devotion, the people in Iraq celebrate the festival of Christmas by carrying out religious services and reciting prayers. These people commemorate Christmas with immense gusto. In Iraq, the celebrations, customs and traditions are very religious in nature. The people in Iraq associate the festival of Christmas for two things only-the birth of Jesus Christ and celebrations of the mid-winter holidays. Iraqi Christmas is marked by the tradition of making unique Christmas crowns that resemble the church pendants.
In Iraq, the people conduct ceremonies in the courtyards of their homes on the day of Christmas Eve. These ceremonies are unusual in nature. In the family, one of the children recites the 'Nativity story' from the Bible, which is written in Arabic. When the story is being recited, the other family members would hold candles in their hands. Once the story is over, a bonfire would be lit in one corner of the house by the members of the family. Dried thorns are used in order to light the bonfire.
According to the Iraqi people, they can predict the future of their household in the coming year by just watching the way the fire burns in the bonfire. For them, if the dried thorns burn to ashes, the family will be blessed with good fortune. A psalm is sung, while the fire continues to burn. As the fire burns out and the thorns reduce to ashes, the members of the family leap over the ashes three times and complete the ceremony by making wishes towards the end.
On Christmas Day, important religious services are held at all the churches around various cities. Christian families from all localities attend these services on Christmas Day. A bonfire is lit inside the church as per Iraqi Christmas traditions. Following this, a procession is held at the church. In this procession, the church officials would march along with the Bishop, who would be carrying infant Jesus Christ's image, which is placed on a red cushion. After the procession, the bishop touches the hand of one person and the touch is passed on to all those present in the ceremony. This custom is known as the 'Touch of Peace'. Thus, the Christmas service for the day ends and all the people in the church are blessed.
Iraqi Christmas Gift-Bringer
According to the Iraqis, Santa Claus is considered to be the traditional gift-bringer. Although there is no snow in Iraq during this time of the year, Santa Claus is believed to come on his sleigh pulled by his trusted reindeers. Dressed in red and white attire, Santa Claus also carries a brown sack filled with gifts and places them under the Christmas tree, while everyone is asleep at night.
Christmas in Iraq is a unique occasion for all the Assyrians. During Christmas time, all the Iraqi Christians carry out their customs and traditions in the most sincere manner. Although the Christmas celebrations are held subtly, the people in Iraq make sure they have a lot of fun during the holiday season.