Christmas in Iran
Happy Holidays to all! ‘Tis the season to be jolly again, Christmas comes tomorrow and different nations across the world are off to celebrate, be with their families, and bid welcome to the New Year! While this holiday has somewhat distanced itself from its religious origin, you may still wonder whether or not Christmas is celebrated in Iran (or any other Muslim country). The short answer is, yes! If you’re traveling during the holidays and find yourself in our country, you can still participate in different celebrations that may not be what you traditionally expect from Christmas, but spread the joy of the season regardless! Keep reading this article to find out more!
Christians in Iran
Officially speaking, Iran is a predominantly Muslim country. Whether or not that’s actually true is up for debate, since people who do not have a religion (whether they’re atheistic, agnostic, or simply do have faith in God but not in any particular religion), nor the people who belong to some religious minorities (i.e. the Bahais) cannot express their religious identity freely. The point is that Iran is pretty varied when it comes to the different religions and faiths its people hold, and Christianity in Iran has existed basically for as long as it has anywhere else.
The vast majority of Iranian Christians are the descendants of the Armenians who migrated to Iran by decree of Shah Abbas of the Safavid dynasty (the same people who took residence in Isfahan’s New Julfa), but historically, Armenians have lived in different parts of Iran (namely Tabriz, Urmia, and Tehran) for a long, long time. These people belong mainly to the Armenian Apostolic Church, though other churches and other nations compose the Christian portion of the Iranian population -the Assyrian Church of the East being the second most populated. The notable difference is that while the holiday is pretty much globally celebrated on December 25th, Armenians of Iran celebrate Christmas on January 6th, on the same day as the Epiphany.
The people of Armenia have had close ties with the land of Persia since many years ago. For a long time, Armenia was a satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire, and before Christianity came along, Zoroastrianism was heavily practiced in this land. Even as Armenia became the first state to declare Christianity as its official religion, its people retained some characteristics from Zoroastrianism as it transitioned to this new religion.
Armenian-Iranians have composed an influential part of the Armenian population at large since the 6th century BC, but as we already mentioned (and as we talked more extensively about in our people of Isfahan blog), their presence was perhaps the most significant when they migrated to Isfahan by decree of Shah Abbas the First during the 17th century AD. The Safavid reign allowed this community to maintain its Christian practices in its own quarters, allowing them to build churches and practice rituals and ceremonies such as Christmas -which in Iran is celebrated on January 6th– and in turn, benefitted from their proficiency in commerce.
How People Celebrate Christmas in Iran
Celebrating Christmas in Iran is not necessarily all that different from other parts of the world, except for the fact that it may be less commercialized. Lots of stores -especially in Christian quarters, though not exclusively- put up Christmas decorations and have special sales for the occasion. Iranian Christians gather to celebrate the birth of Christ in their churches, namely the St. Stephanus Church in the city of Julfa, the Qara Kelisa (St. Thaddeus Church, perhaps one of the oldest churches in the world) south of Maku, and the Vank Cathedral in Isfahan. As for the Muslim/non-Christian population, they still have reason to enjoy the festivities and can usually be found strolling about town on Christmas Eve.
Christmas in Isfahan (New Julfa)
If you want to celebrate Christmas in Iran, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place than Isfahan’s Armenian Quarters -the New Julfa! It’s where you can truly see all the joy and brightness of the holiday season, find appropriately baked sugar cookies, and enjoy being part of a large crowd gathered to celebrate and have a nice time, regardless of religion and other divisions!
Do Muslims Celebrate Christmas in Iran?
As we already mentioned, Muslims don’t shy away from celebrating Christmas in Iran! Although during the early years of the Islamic revolution, public holiday decorations and celebrations were banned, and although even to this day, government-ran media -as well as some individuals- shun Christmas, declaring it as a Western practice and having nothing to do with the Iranian culture, many people still the enjoy the holidays, not for any specific religious reasons, but as an excuse to have an enjoyable time!
And that’s pretty much it! We hope this article has helped enlighten you about the Iranian culture! We’d love to talk to you about our culture when you come to Sarv Hostel, and be sure to check our , because who knows what events we may have! Also, if you’re coming to Isfahan, you can read about the best things to do in the Instagramcity following this link and Isfahan hostels following this one!