Iran is officially a Muslim country and most people practice Islam as their main religion. However, it is worth to note that Christmassy vibes are felt in Iran as well, not only thanks to the globalization, but also because of Christian people who live in this country, whose history goes back to the early years of the faith, pre-dating Islam.
Nowadays, most of the Christian people in Iran are originally Armenians, who are considered to be amongst the native ethnic groups of northwestern Iran and that’s why many historical monuments such as churches and Armenian chapels are found in this region of the country.
Iranians take selfie with Christmas items of a shop in central Tehran, Iran. (Image: AP/PTI)
Church of Saint Thaddeus or Qare Kelisa, for example, is one of the most important manifestations of Christianity in this region and Iran, which is also among the registered monuments of UNESCO. But, how do Armenian people in Iran celebrate this time of the year?
It is interesting to know that 25 of December, which is celebrated in most of the catholic countries, is not an official celebrating day in the calendar of Armenians in Iran.
That is to say, this day is not celebrated by Iranian-Armenians, because they are Orthodox and not catholic (they follow the practices observed by Armenian Apostolic Church), although you can already see the Christmassy decorations and embellishments in their neighborhoods in this time of the year (especially in Mirzaye Shirazi street and Jolfa in Isfahan, where many Iranian-Armenians live) and you will also see Santa Clause taking picture with people on the street in these neighbourhoods!
Iranian-Armenians however, celebrate the New Year’s Eve along with the rest of the world in Iran as well. During this time of the year, there are ceremonies in many famous hotels of Iran such as Espinas or Laleh and Christians of Tehran celebrate the new year in these hotels. In addition, some of them reserve a holiday package in Dizin ski resort and spend 2 or 3 days in the hotel established in the mountains and enjoy the new year with the fresh snow of Tehran’s mountains.
Iranian-Armenians have also their special clubs in different cities of Iran such as Tehran, Tabriz and Abadan and many go to these clubs as a family tradition during the New Year’s Eve.
Saint Thaddeus Cathedral (Qara Kelissa), West Azarbaijan, Iran. Believed by some to have been first built in 66 AD by Saint Jude. Local Armenians believe that he and Simon were both buried here.
The celebration is so vibrant and lively, and many famous Armenian singers from all over the world (mainly from Armenia and the United States) travel to Iran and have live performance in these places during the New Year’s Eve.
The day which is religiously important among Iranian-Armenians is actually January 6th. On this day, families go to their churches for The Eucharist, which is also called the Holy Communion, Mass, the Lord’s Supper or the Divine Liturgy, which is a sacrament accepted by almost all Christians. On this day, they will drink wine, as a symbol of Jesus’s blood and the sacred bread, which they call it Neshkhark.
This bread is taken to home from the church for the family dinner as well, when all the family gathers together at night. On this day, Iranian-Armenians cook special foods such as fish and a sweet stew made of plums and raisins. They also put green vegetables on the table, such as Kookoo Sabzi, which is also an Iranian famous dish made of fresh herbs, aromatic spices, Zereshk (barberries) and toasted walnuts.
Iranian-Armenians also use special decorations such as wreath on the entrance door of their houses, which is a symbol of thorn crown put on the head of Jesus, and the Christmas tree, which they decorate it with 3 main colors (red, as a symbol of Jesus’s blood, green, as a symbol of immortality and gold, as a symbol of wealth and glory).
Blue and white are the colors which are added to these main colors in the recent years. They also hang a huge sock above the fire place or on the wall, which is where the Santa is supposed to put the children’s gifts for the new year!