Iraqi Christian families are preparing to celebrate their first Christmas since returning to their homes in Qaraqosh.
A young Christian woman named Merna says, “We waited for three years. This year Christmas will be very different because we have returned to our town Baghdeda (the local name for Qaraqosh). Being able to go to church and seeing that there are people who are celebrating Christmas is something great.”
An estimated 20,000 people have returned to Qaraqosh. The town was home to 50,000 Christians before the invasion of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
Merna continues, “One of the first things Christians do when Advent starts is start cleaning their houses.” Of course, houses are cleaned regularly, but the houses are cleaned more intensely for Christmas.
“Only after that do we put the Christmas tree in the house and hang decorations on the walls. We prepare the Christmas tree together, my brother and sisters and I.”
Christmas in Iraq
Shlema*, the director of our local partner organisation in Iraq, says, “All Christians have their houses decorated. Even during their displacement they would put decorations in their caravans.
“We have special food. Most traditional is ‘pacha’. We cook the head, legs, tongue and other leftovers of a cow or sheep and we put that together with rice in a stomach that we’ve cleaned. We will eat this at Christmas. I think about 80% of the Christians will eat that.”
Another common food at Christmas is ‘kobu qasee’, a kind of soup full of meat.
This meal is eaten on Christmas Day, usually after church, with the whole family, and people will wear new clothes bought especially for Christmas.
For Christians, 25 and 26 December are official holidays in Iraq. Sometimes the Kurdish and Iraqi government decide to make the 25 an official holiday for all citizens. The Kurdish government has already announced this for the Kurdish region. “From Baghdad I haven’t heard yet that it will be an official holiday,” Shlema says.
She continues, “We have Iraqi Christmas songs, some others are translated.” Even in Iraq, you will hear people singing ‘Jingle bells’ and ‘Silent Night’.
- That Christians in Iraq will truly know 'Immanuel', that God is with them, this Christmas
- For provision for those who have been unable to return to their homes, and for those who are beginning to rebuild their lives
- For wisdom for Open Doors partners as they work to bring comfort and joy to our Iraqi brothers and sisters.
Iraq is currently number 7 on the Open Doors World Watch List, our annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. Our 2018 World Watch List will come out on 10 January, and will be presented to UK parliament on 17 January. Invite your MP to this meeting, and ask them to do more to support persecuted Christians.
You can also order a free Hope for the Middle East campaign wristband, to remind you to pray for your church family in the Middle East.