More Iraqi Muslims are celebrating Christmas than ever. Yet Iraq’s Christians are an endangered minority and some Muslim clerics are vehemently against it. So why are there so many Christmas trees in Baghdad?
Iraqi woman Kholoud Khardoum suspects she was the one who introduced Christmas to her village in southern Iraq. It all started six years ago with a small plastic Christmas tree and some gifts for her nieces and nephews during a visit home, the Iraqi journalist, who resides in Baghdad, recounted.
“At first, it was a bit weird. People kept asking what the tree was. It was something they had only seen on TV,” she told DW; her hometown is just outside the city of Karbala, a comparatively conservative place with a Shiite Muslim majority that is also a major destination for Muslim pilgrims. “But with the lights and the decorations and gifts, the children really loved it. Then the neighbors came over and they liked what we were doing too.”
A Christian family prepares for Christmas in Iraq
Khardoum has also noticed that more and more Iraqis, like her family and her neighbors, are celebrating Christmas. “A few years ago you would only see Christmas decorations being sold in shops in places like Karrada or Jadiriyah [neighborhoods in Baghdad that are home to the city’s Christian minority],” Khardoum explained. “But now they’re all over the city.”
Christmas is even becoming more popular in southern Iraq, stronghold of the country’s Shiite Muslim majority, she noted. For example, her nephew goes to a private school in Karbala and there the students all pose under a large Christmas tree set up by the teachers, something that wouldn’t necessarily have happened a few years ago.
In Baghdad, the city council has placed Christmas trees at intersections and many big hotels and restaurants are decorated accordingly. After visiting markets in the city this month, Iraqi website, Shafaq News, wrote that Christmas is bigger than ever in Iraq. This year, sales of trees and Santa figures are “unprecedented” and the turnout “remarkable,” the outlet reported, after speaking with local stallholders.