By Sahar Jamfar for Redbrick
Travel writer, Sahar, unveils the beauty of visiting Iran at Christmas
Understandably, this is not the most conventional place to think about when talking about Christmas, but that is exactly why I wanted to bring the focus on Iran. Even though Iran is predominantly Muslim, Christian communities have been able to grow and celebrate their faith, with many different denominations continuing to thrive. While Christmas isn’t a national holiday, Iranian Christians are able to celebrate freely.
Just like most households, Iranian Christians decorate their Christmas tree, exchange gifts and attend a church service. Christmas in Iran is known as “Little Feast” and it is a period of time where Christmas trees and decorations can be seen mainly in Tehran and North-West Iran. Other major cities such as Tabriz, Mashad, Shiraz and Esfahan have also started to adopt Christmas themes, allowing the holiday to grow significantly in a mostly Muslim country.
For Assyrians, 1st of December marks the start of “Little Fast” in which all animal products are banned for 25 days in order to bring peace into one’s life. On the last day of the fast, Christmas Eve, Iranian Christians attend Mass to receive Communion and then they are able to break the fast.
For orthodox Armenians, their Christmas celebration only involves attending Mass on Christmas Day at their church. Unlike Assyrians, they don’t fast. Also, some Christians celebrate on 6thJanuary at the same time as the Epiphany.
On Christmas Day, food is the focus. The main dish is a chicken barley soup, known as “Harissa” and is made in bulk so that it lasts for a few days. For children, they receive gifts from Baba Noel such as new clothes, which they will probably wear for the rest of the week out of sheer delight. Family is also a big focus, people will visit one another on Christmas Day and make sure they have wished everyone they know a merry Christmas.
Despite Christians making up a very small portion of Iran’s population (a mere 1%), Muslim families have started to adopt aspects of Christmas, for example decorating the house and buying gifts for their children. Shops are now starting to stock Christmas gifts and having Christmas-themed window displays such as the nativity. This has allowed the general population to become more aware of Christmas and the youth have also started to celebrate other holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Halloween. This is mainly because around this time of year, satellite channels will start to show Christmas-themed TV shows and films, making young Iranians want to take part in the celebrations. For most of the Muslim population, Christmas is seen as a time to have a party and this tends to take precedence over the true meaning of Christmas.
In the future, I can imagine Iran being a great destination for a Christmas holiday due to the bountiful snow, being able to ski on the mountains and to just be somewhere completely unconventional. In general, winter time in Iran is beautiful, so if you are after a white Christmas, this is definitely an option to consider.
Sahar's in her third and final year of Policy, Politics and Economics. In her spare time, she likes to cook, dance and watch Ru Paul's Drag Race. Her primary interests are feminism, gay rights and Iran. (@saharjamfar)