How Iran Celebrates Christmas Eve?
As Christmas Eve approaches, the air is filled with excitement and joy as people worldwide prepare for this beautiful festival and welcome the upcoming new year.
In Iran, a predominantly Islamic country, Christmas may not be as grand as in other nations. However, the concept of a Persian Christmas is not strange, given the longstanding presence of Christianity in Iran since its early years.
In addition, Muslims in Iran acknowledge Jesus Christ as one of the holy messengers. In fact, during Christmas, many streets, hotels, houses, shopping malls, and markets in Iran decorate their premises with Christmas trees and decorations to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Join us as we explore Christianity in Iran, how Iranians celebrate Christmas, and delve into the enchanting traditions and vibrant atmosphere that mark Christmas Eve in Iran.
The Christian Population in Iran
Iran is a nation where Islam is the official state religion, and nearly 99% of Iranians identify as Muslims. The number of Christians in Iran, across various denominations, is estimated to be around 300,000 individuals. Among them, the Armenians, Assyrians, and Chaldeans form the majority, accounting for over 90% of Iran's Christian population.
Christian communities can be found throughout Iran; however, certain regions have denser Christian populations. Northwestern Iran, including East and West Azerbaijan provinces, along with Isfahan's New Jolfa neighborhood and Tehran, are notable areas where the Christian community thrives.
Most Christians in Iran have ancestral ties to Armenia, a neighboring country to the north, or Assyria, an ancient land west of Iran. Armenians, in particular, form the largest ethnic Christian population in Iran, predominantly following the Orthodox branch of Christianity. The Assyrian community also contributes significantly to the Christian fabric of Iran.
In Iran, Christmas is significant, and churches in Iran become vibrant hubs of celebration as Armenians and other Christian denominations come together to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.
How Iranians Celebrate Christmas Eve
Christmas in Iran may not be an official national holiday, but it is still celebrated and embraced throughout the country. During Christmas Eve, you'll find hotels, malls, and public centers in Iran decked out with beautiful Christmas trees and festive decorations. They do this to show their support and respect for the Iranian Christian community. And guess who welcomes visitors at the entrance of prominent shopping centers? Santa Claus, or as they call him in Iran, Bābā Noel!
But the Christmas spirit doesn't stop there. If you take a stroll through the streets, you'll see shops and houses with windows adorned with candy canes, snow globes, and Santa Claus figures. The whole place feels merry and bright!
Regarding food, Families prepare mouthwatering dishes such as roasted chicken, fragrant rice pilaf, and the delightful shir berenj, a creamy rice pudding. You will also find homemade cookies, pastries, and indulgent halva to satisfy your sweet tooth.
One of the popular dishes during Christmas in Iran is "Harissa," a delicious chicken and barley stew that people enjoy over several days. Roasted turkey is also commonly served.
To wish someone a Merry Christmas in Iran, you can say, "Christmas Mobarak!" This phrase reflects the warm and inclusive spirit of the occasion, showing how Iranians embrace the festive season with open hearts and a lot of joy.
How Different Christian Groups in Iran Celebrate Christmas
Different Christian groups in Iran have their own unique ways of celebrating Christmas. Let's explore how the famous Armenian and Assyrian Christian communities in Iran celebrate this joyous occasion:
Iranian Armenian Christmas Celebration
The Armenian Christians in Iran have a rich and engaging tradition of celebrating Christmas Eve. Here are the key elements of their celebration:
- Embracing Christianity: When Christianity emerged, Armenians embraced it as their official religion, moving away from their previous worship of goddesses. Iran's Azerbaijan region has been a longstanding home to Armenian communities, with numerous Armenian churches and monasteries scattered across the area.
- Unique Celebration Date: While many Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25th, Armenians celebrate it on January 6th, coinciding with Epiphany, which symbolizes the baptism of Jesus.
- Preparations and Decorations: Armenians begin preparing for Christmas well in advance. They engage in housecleaning and decorate their Christmas tree 15 days before the celebration. They prefer natural trees and often include the delightful figure of Baba Noel, who holds gift boxes. In some communities, Santa Claus also adds to the festive atmosphere.
- Fasting and Church Rituals: A week before the New Year, Armenians observe a fast, abstaining from meat products. On December 31st, they gather in churches, such as Isfahan's Vank Cathedral, to mark the arrival of the new Christian year. They engage in church rituals, including kneeling, performing religious duties before the priests, and participating in ceremonies like Badarak and Eucharist. These rituals open the fast, with Armenians consuming "Matzo" and singing hymns to honor Jesus Christ.
- Special Ceremonies: On the night of January 5th and the day of January 6th, Armenians hold special ceremonies where attendees receive water consecrated with anointing oil. This water is believed to possess healing and sanctifying properties. Family plays a vital role during New Year celebrations, with Armenians spending the night with loved ones or supporting those who have recently experienced a loss. The Ararat Armenian Club in Tehran serves as a gathering place for Armenians, where they celebrate and participate in charity bazaars dedicated to Christmas.
Iranian Assyrian Christmas Celebration
The Assyrian Christians in Iran also have their own unique way of celebrating Christmas. Here's a glimpse into their traditions:
- Assyrian Presence in Iran: Assyrians have made Iran their home for generations, with Western Azerbaijan, particularly Urmia City, being a significant hub for the Assyrian population.
- Date and Fasting: Assyrians recognize December 25th as the day of Jesus' birth and celebrate it with great joy. Interestingly, they observe a 25-day fasting period leading up to Jesus' birthday, during which they abstain from meat and dairy products. December 25th aligns with the 4th of Dey in the Persian Calendar.
- Church Gatherings and Communion: On Christmas Eve, Iranian Assyrians gather in their churches, visiting one another and exchanging greetings. The fast is broken through the Eucharist, a sacred ceremony symbolizing the Last Supper, where wine is consecrated and shared among the congregation. Through prayer and communion, they commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ and express their deep devotion to their faith.
- Appreciating Clerics and Unity: The Assyrians extend their congratulations to the Assyrian Clerics during this special time, acknowledging their important role in guiding the community. The clerics reciprocate these warm wishes by visiting their fellow believers, fostering a sense of unity and connection.
- New Year Celebration: While many Christians celebrate the start of the New Year on January 1st, the Assyrians have a distinct tradition. Their New Year officially begins on April 2nd, symbolizing fresh starts and new beginnings for the community.
Unique Traditions of Iranian Christmas Eve Celebrations
The Christmas Eve celebrations in Iran have unique traditions that make them truly special. Let's explore some of these traditions:
- Biblical Readings: The Christmas Eve mass in Iran typically features readings from the Bible, including the enchanting narrative of Jesus's birth in Bethlehem.
- The Warm Glow of Candles and Decorated Trees: Just like in other parts of the world, Iranians who celebrate Christmas adorn their homes with beautifully decorated Christmas trees. These trees, adorned with ornaments, candles, and twinkling lights, create a magical and joyful ambiance. Iranians also light candles on their windowsills and front doorsteps, symbolizing a warm welcome to the holiday season.
- Harmonious Melodies of Carols and Hymns: Iranians celebrate Christmas Eve by singing cherished carols and hymns. Some churches organize group singing sessions, where congregants come together in harmonious unity. Traditional Armenian hymns and carols blend with popular Persian renditions of Christmas songs, creating a beautiful tapestry of melodies that resonate with the joyous spirit of the season.
- Midnight Liturgy and Remembering Loved Ones: One of the most significant moments of Christmas Eve in Iran is the midnight liturgy, which takes place in many churches and starts around midnight on December 24th and continues into the early hours of Christmas Day. Families gather to participate in this sacred service, immersing themselves in the spiritual ambiance of the occasion. Additionally, many families pay homage to their departed loved ones by visiting their graves during this time. They lovingly place flowers and candles on the graves, a touching gesture that honors their memory and celebrates the enduring bond of family.
- Heartfelt Wishes through Christmas Cards: Exchanging Christmas cards is a cherished tradition in Iran. Christians and non-Christians send heartfelt greeting cards featuring traditional Persian imagery and artwork to family and friends.
Reasons to Travel to Iran During Christmas
While Iran may not be the first destination that comes to mind for Christmas celebrations, this captivating four-season country offers a delightful and unique experience during the holiday season. Here are some compelling reasons to consider traveling to Iran during Christmas:
- Lower Prices and Less Crowds: As Christmas falls during the low season in Iran, you can benefit from significantly lower prices. With fewer travelers around, hotels, tours, and even restaurants often offer discounted rates, making your holiday budget stretch further. You also have the opportunity to enjoy top-notch accommodations and indulge in exquisite cuisine without breaking the bank.
- Enhanced Services: With fewer travelers during the winter season, you can expect impeccable service in Iran. The locals have more time and resources to dedicate to ensuring your comfort and satisfaction. Whether it's at hotels, restaurants, or tourist attractions, you'll experience a heightened level of attention and genuine hospitality.
- A Winter Wonderland: Since Christmas falls in winter, Iran's diverse climate will welcome you with a wide range of experiences during the winter season. From snow-capped mountains to cozy towns, you can immerse yourself in a winter wonderland like no other. Venture to the magnificent ski resorts of Dizin or Shemshak and indulge in thrilling winter sports. You can also visit the enchanting cities of Isfahan and Tehran and revel in the unique charm they exude during this time of year.
- Cultural Immersion: Traveling to Iran during Christmas allows you to witness the country's rich cultural tapestry. Engage with the warm-hearted locals and learn about their customs and traditions. You can also attend Christmas services in Armenian churches, where you can experience the joyous celebrations firsthand.
Is Christmas Celebrated in Iran?
Yes, Christmas is celebrated in Iran, particularly among the Christian community. While Iran is predominantly an Islamic country, there is a significant minority of Christians, including Armenians and Assyrians, who actively celebrate Christmas. The Iranian government officially recognizes and respects the religious freedom of minority communities, allowing them to practice their faith and celebrate their religious holidays.
Why Do Iranians Celebrate Christmas?
Iranians celebrate Christmas primarily due to the presence of a significant Christian minority in the country. The Christian community in Iran also has a long history, dating back to the early years of Christianity.
In addition, The Iranian Muslims acknowledge Jesus Christ as one of the holy messengers, which is why many Iranians appreciate the festive spirit and use Christmas as an opportunity for joy and merriment.
What Does Iran Celebrate in December?
In December, Iranians celebrate various holidays and occasions, including Yalda Night (the longest night of the year and the arrival of winter) and, of course, Christmas. While Christmas is not a national holiday in Iran, it is still celebrated by Christians and even embraced by some non-Christian Iranians as a joyful and festive occasion.
Celebrating Christmas Eve in Iran is a truly remarkable and unforgettable experience. You will get to witness the joy and enthusiasm of not only the Christian minority but also the broader Iranian community during this festive season.
You will have the opportunity to immerse yourself in a different way of celebrating Christmas Eve, surrounded by diverse people and their vibrant traditions. You will get to create cherished memories and have a winter wonderland adventure.
Lastly, while celebrating Christmas Eve in Iran, you can also explore the captivating attractions Iran has to offer. You can visit the ancient ruins of Persepolis or wander through the bustling Tehran grand bazaar to experience the country's rich history and vibrant culture.
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