Improved security in Iraq has meant many Iraqi Christians are coming back after fleeing their country and are practicing their faith openly, to the point of publicly celebrating Christmas, with the new Iraqi government going so far as to declare it a national holiday. From Greatest gift for Iraqi Christians — returning home – Los Angeles Times:
Hundreds of Christians gathered to celebrate Christmas in Baghdad, most acknowledging that improved security conditions have allowed them to move more freely throughout the city after returning from years-long exiles in Syria, Egypt, Jordan or Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region.
In the Christian neighborhood of Karada on Thursday, a Santa Claus handed out religious CDs and pamphlets, including “25 Stories From the Bible” and “The Greatest Gift.” In recent years, such an act could have resulted in death.
Christians are estimated to make up less than 3% of Iraq’s population of 27 million, and some reports say that about half fled after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of the country.
On Thursday, at least 600 holiday worshipers packed the Catholic Church of the Virgin Mary in the Karada neighborhood, where a flashing red-and-gold Christmas tree adorned the altar.
Women came with their hair uncovered and were dressed in their holiday finest — festive red sweaters and skirts, bejeweled jeans and knee-high lace-up boots.
Father Boutros Haddad, the church’s priest, said he hadn’t seen so many worshipers in years.
“It’s been a long time since we felt happy like now,” Haddad said. “We are happy for peace. We are not happy only for Christians, we feel happy for the Kurds, Arabs, Chaldeans. We feel happy for everybody in Iraq because we are brothers. Let us pray for peace.”
For the first time in memory, the Iraqi government declared Christmas a national holiday. And last week, a community event was held at a park to celebrate the spirit of Christmas. Large posters depicting a portrait of Jesus and a Christmas tree could be spotted around town.
HT: Hugh Hewitt