Christmas in Iraq

Here in the U.S., we are accustomed to all manner of Christmas displays, from gentle creche exhibits to gaudy Christmas lights set to blink in tune to epic progressive rock songs. But Christians in Iraq celebrated Christmas quietly, according to a report on NPR’s All Things Considered Friday, A Mostly Silent Night. Because Christmas coincided with the Ashoura, an important Shiite mourning ritual, Christians were keeping things quiet.

So Iraqi Christians are refraining from any public signs of celebration out of respect for — or fear of — their Muslim neighbors.

At St. Joseph’s Church in the affluent neighborhood of Karada in central Baghdad, Father Saad Sirop Hanna, the parish priest, says people have asked him if it’s safe to come to the church.

“And I say, ‘Yes, it is safe. Please come, because we should celebrate Christmas. And this is our life, our religion,’ ” he says.

St. Joseph’s was built in 1959 out of concrete with cathedral-high ceilings. Fifty years ago, the Christians in Baghdad might never have suspected the church would be crowned with barbed wire around the courtyard and police stopping cars a block away from the entrance.

Father Saad says Christians are voluntarily keeping the holiday behind closed doors.

“We decided to do it like this, just to be also in harmony with them, to respect a little bit for them,” he says. “They are celebrating the death of [Imam] Hussein. … It’s a tragedy for them, so we can’t just celebrate the Christmas without taking in consideration their feelings. … We are living in a very tense … time now.”

The story also notes the declining population of Christians in Iraq and reports on Shiite reactions to what the Christians are doing. You can read the whole thing here.

Sunday Social Hour is taking a brief holiday break and should return next week.

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