BAGHDAD – Baghdad residents are approaching Christmas with an enthusiasm that defies increasingly outdated international perceptions of Iraq as a perpetually war-torn country often at the mercy of armed groups.
Market stalls are piled high with Santa Claus cuddly toys or lined with an impressive range of plastic Christmas trees in multiple shades, while whole shop aisles are dedicated to selling seasonal items – coloured baubles, glittery fir cones, miniature plastic snowmen and white-trimmed bright-red children’s outfits.
Across the capital, many hotels, cafes and restaurants have trees and decorations, mostly featuring images of Father Christmas rather than Nativity scenes, with such Christian symbolism largely confined to churches.
This year is special, and we’re celebrating in a bigger and wider way, ringing the church bells and singing
– Iraqi nun
“We haven’t had any threats or problems this year, and the situation for us is nice and stable,” said a nun in the Dominican Convent in Baghdad’s Karrada district who preferred not to give her name.
Standing beside an illuminated Nativity scene and richly decorated Christmas tree in Baghdad’s Christ the King Church, she told Middle East Eye that Iraq’s Christians have previously tempered their celebrations, as the holiday has sometimes coincided with the Islamic month of Muharram, when many Muslims mourn the killing of the Prophet’s grandson, Imam Hussein.
“We respect Muslims’ sadness at this time,” she said.