Christmas in Iraq
BY: Weam Namou/Ambassador Blogger
The government of Iraq declared Christmas an official holiday for the first time in 2008, but for the last several years, Iraqi Christians celebrated it quietly and somberly. Families would attend church, but they would not put up Christmas trees or host happy gatherings.
The lack of festivities correlates with the dwindling number of Christians in Iraq and the overshadowing of the Muslim holiday, Ashura, which occurs just before Christmas. The Christians of Iraq, considered one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, were at one time nearly 5 million. A decade ago, only 35,000 Christians lived in Mosul. Today, maybe 20 or 30 remain, largely because those who remained have been persecuted by the Islamic State.
This year, the city of Baghdad has a different, happier atmosphere during Christmas. Many meetings, activities, and church ceremonies have occurred in Baghdad throughout December, including a peace festival at Mansour Hotel, a pluralism convention at Rasheed Hotel, a spiritual retreat for Chaldean priests, and a separate retreat for nuns. A great number of Christians went to Al Nakheel Mall, dancing their traditional depka to loud Aramaic songs. Onlookers enjoyed this public display and the media was quick to report the festivities.
A large Christmas tree was placed in front of Baghdad International Airport. Another large, 85-foot-tall artificial tree, was placed in Al Zawra Park, where many Christian representatives met on December 20 with the presence of the media. Holding lit candles, they sang Christmas songs in various languages, including Arabic and English.
A Muslim businessman, Yassir Saad, donated a tree that costed around $24,000 in an attempt to show solidarity with the Christians. According to The Associated Press, the initiative aims at “joining our Christian brothers in their holiday celebrations and helping Iraqis forget their anguish.”
“This is a very nice gesture, especially in times when there are so many tensions between Islam and Christianity here in Iraq and around the world,” said Ninos Youkhana, an Iraqi American who lives in Iraq and is a blogger of coffeeshoppolitics.com and Ninos.blog. “This signifies freedom.”
In Alqosh, the last Christian village in Iraq, a large 12-meter illuminated cross, the biggest in Iraq, was placed on a mountain. But elsewhere, the dire situation for Christian refugees still remains, so their focus is not necessarily on Christmas, but rather it is on survival, especially during the harsh winter weather that’s approaching Iraq.
Nidhal Garmo, an award-winning humanitarian and president of One World Medical mission, is an Iraqi American who regularly visits Iraq on humanitarian missions to provide refugees with clothes and medical supplies. Currently driving in rainy, old, and windy weather through unpaved roads, she and her team are spreading love, support, and 1200 bags of clothes, including bridal dresses, to the refugees.
“Our Christian displaced families are doing real bad in this refugee center in Kaznazan, where there are 3,500 people that need gas to turn the heat and electricity on,” said Garmo. “That is why I am here, for the children and for the thousands of Iraqis that deserve the same life we live in the U.S.”