Christmas in Iran, A Festive Phenomenon in an Unexpected Place
WANA (DEC 25) – A surprising holiday spirit has been stirring in Iran, where Islamic traditions are the ruling culture.
Even though Christmas is not officially recognized, it has recently been gaining popularity in Iran, a predominantly Muslim country. Cities such as Tehran and Isfahan have been showing a surge of interest and celebration in the Christian holiday, with decorated pine trees, Santa Clauses, and stores selling Christmas decorations and gifts, which all used to be rare and uncommon in this country.
“Well, it’s nice; any occasion that people can be happy and celebrate, whether Yald night (A traditional Iranian Holiday)or Christmas, is beautiful in its unique way.” Ms Bahmanpour said a woman who was taking a walk in a Christmas-themed street in Tehran.
Like many other countries, Iran has a community of Christian people who celebrate Christmas, and their influence is evident in the holiday spirit. However, the sudden increase in interest and celebration of Christmas in Iran cannot be solely attributed to the country’s Christian population.
According to the statistics of some media, including the Fars news agency, about “90 percent of the buyers of Christmas products are Muslim” who decorate their homes. Sometimes, it is said humorously or seriously that non-Christian families have become so “interested” in buying pine trees that sometimes the pine tree is sold out when Christians go shopping and return home empty-handed.
“The feedback is very good, the amount of coming and going to the store is very good, They respect Christ’s birthday a lot, I am very satisfied with the selling,” Said Mr Amiri, A Christmas Store Owner in Tehran during the Christmas shopping rage.
What is the reason for this sudden festive spirit?
One might attribute this cultural curiosity to a multitude of reasons. Firstly, social media has played an instrumental role in a digitally connected world. Platforms like Instagram and Facebook have created a global village, erasing geographical boundaries and allowing Iranians to peek into the festive celebrations of other cultures. The allure of Christmas aesthetics, from decorated trees to festive lights, has found its way onto screens, capturing the imagination of Iranians and igniting a desire to partake in the merriment.
Moreover, the appeal of novelty cannot be overlooked. In a society where tradition holds significant weight, embracing something new and different can be exhilarating. With its rich cultural tapestry and universal themes of joy and giving, Christmas provides a refreshing break from the routine, inviting Iranians to immerse themselves in a celebration beyond their own cultural sphere.
“Well, it’s wonderful, and we have similar festivals in Iran, but we also like to participate in Christian festivals.” On Christmas Eve, Melika Zenderoh, A Tehrani citizen, shared her ideas about why people are so happy to celebrate this holiday.
So, as Melika mentioned, let’s not forget the innate human desire for connection and celebration. Regardless of religious affiliations, the essence of Christmas — a time for family, love, and togetherness — resonates universally. Like people everywhere, Iranians are drawn to the warmth and friendliness permeating the holiday season.
Yet, another slightly darker reason for this collective eagerness is the desire to showcase a luxurious lifestyle.
Christmas festivities, including decorations and trees, are often considered a luxury in Iran due to their high cost. As a result, many families cannot afford these items. Posting a picture of one’s Christmas celebration could be seen as a symbol of luxury; therefore, another possible reason for the sudden surge in Christmas celebrations could be the desire to keep up with the “cool” crowd and not be left behind.
However, if we dig a little deeper, we realize the rising fascination with Christmas in Iran also indicates a more comprehensive change in cultural dynamics. It denotes a desire for inclusivity, a readiness to adopt cultural elements from other societies, and a willingness to commemorate harmony amidst differences.
How Does the Clergic government of Iran react to this phenomenon
Although the celebration of some of the Western holidays has been banned or restricted, for example, Valentine’s Day, the government has not placed any limitations on the Christmas market, likely due to its concern for the activities of religious minorities.
In 2018, there was a lot of focus on Christmas celebrations. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, gave his opinion on this matter from a religious perspective. He was asked if it was okay for Muslims to celebrate Christian holidays. He responded with a jurisprudential point of view, “There is no problem in celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ in itself, but it should not be done in a way that promotes the decadent culture of the West or perversion of belief and corruption.” He said.
The celebration of January and the beginning of the new year has also taken on a modern face, as if Iranians want to show their empathy and companionship with what is happening in the contemporary world. In this way, they want to indirectly show that they are modern. They think that, like occasions such as Valentine’s Day and Halloween, it is a sign prominent in Western culture, and some Iranians empathize with it.
WANA / Writing by S, Khezri. and E. Assar & N. Safarzadeh contributed.