Iran, primarily an Islamic country, also celebrates Christmas like other nations in the region. Around 200,000 Christians live in Iran today and they believe that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world, and that his father is God.
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On Christmas Day, they celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth by feasting on a traditional chicken stew called harissa, or on roast turkey. Children who celebrating Christmas, receive new clothes, but rarely other gifts.
Most of them celebrate that day with friends and family members, or they go to churches for special religious ceremonies.
Christmas Culture and Traditions in Iran
Especially in Tehran’s Christian neighborhoods, you can see Christmas trees adorned with red, green, and gold gift boxes. These decorations frequently adorn shop windows and grace the entrances of various shopping malls and hotels.
During Christmas in Iran, shops along Mirza Shirazi Avenue and Ostaad Nejatollahi (Villa Avenue) in central Tehran, where many Iranian Christians live, showcase decorated trees and Nativity scenes featuring the Virgin Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. These festive displays are also common in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Read More: Do the Iranian People Celebrate Christmas?
Church services and mass during Christmas
The festive atmosphere in Tehran extends beyond Christian neighborhoods. In the northern parts of the city, many shops dedicate sections of their windows to decorations like candy canes, snow globes, and Santa Claus figures.
In Tehran, municipal authorities have recently begun displaying banners to celebrate the birth of Jesus. These banners are prominently featured on main streets and near St. Sarkis Armenian Church on Villa Avenue, where an annual Christmas service is held.
Unlike some regional countries where Christmas public celebrations are confined to hotels for foreigners, Tehran imposes no such restrictions. The sale of Christmas ornaments, initially limited to Christian districts post-Islamic Revolution, has now become widespread throughout the city.
During the Christmas Eve mass, there are typically readings from the Bible, including the story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. There may also be music, including traditional hymns and carols, as well as prayers and sermons.
For many Christians in Iran, attending church services and mass on Christmas Eve is a highlight of the holiday, as it offers a chance to come together with their fellow believers to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Armenian-Iranians and Christmas in Iran
Some Iranian Christians celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, while Armenians celebrate Christmas at the same time as the Epiphany on Jan. 6.
The festive spirit in Tehran isn’t confined to Christian neighborhoods. Shops, particularly in the northern parts, often decorate their windows with items like candy canes, snow globes, and Santa Claus figures.
In recent years, Tehran’s municipal authorities have started putting up banners celebrating Jesus’ birth on main streets and around St. Sarkis Armenian Church on Villa Avenue, where an annual service is conducted.
Contrasting with other regional countries where Christmas celebrations are mostly limited to hotels for foreigners, Tehran has no such restrictions. The sale of Christmas ornaments, once restricted to Christian districts during the early years of the Islamic Revolution, is now a common sight throughout the city.
The unique traditions of Iranian Christmas Eve celebrations
Christmas Eve celebrations in Iran are a unique blend of both Western and Persian culture, and offer a special and festive experience to those who celebrate it.
Lighting candles and decorating trees: Similar to other parts of the world, Iranians who celebrate Christmas often put up a Christmas tree and decorate it with ornaments, candles, and lights. They may also light candles in their windowsills or on their front doorsteps to signify the welcoming of the holiday season.
Making special dishes and sweets: Iranians celebrate Christmas Eve with special dishes, including traditional Persian flavors and ingredients. These may include roasted chicken, rice pilaf, and shir berenj (a type of rice pudding). For dessert, they may make cookies, pastries, or halva (a sticky, sweet confection made from flour, butter, and sugar). Each dish is cooked with extra care and love, and the aroma of the dishes fills the air during the holiday season.
Iran Tourist Card
Singing carols and hymns: During Christmas Eve in Iran, many people sing carols and hymns. Some churches organize group singing sessions where members of the church sing together in harmony.
Attending the midnight liturgy and visiting the graves of loved ones: One unique tradition of Christmas Eve in Iran is attending the midnight liturgy held in churches. Many families also visit the graves of their loved ones during this time, placing flowers or candles on the graves as a way of remembering and honoring their memory.
Sending Christmas cards: Sending Christmas cards is a popular tradition in Iran. People send cards to their family and friends to wish them a happy holiday season, and these cards often feature traditional Persian images or artwork.
Where to go during Christmas in Tehran?
If you’re looking for places to feel the Christmas mood in Tehran, there are several options. Here are some ideas:
St. Sarkis Cathedral: St. Sarkis Cathedral is one of the most famous Armenian churches in Tehran and is a popular destination for those who celebrate Christmas. The church holds special services and masses on Christmas Eve, and visitors can enjoy the beautiful architecture and decorations.
Christmas markets: There are several Christmas markets and bazaars in Tehran that sell festive decorations, gifts, and food. Some popular markets include the Tehran Grand Bazaar, Tehran Book Garden, and Vanak Square.
Parks and gardens: If you’re looking for a peaceful and picturesque spot to enjoy Christmas in Tehran, the city has several beautiful parks and gardens. Mellat Park and Jamshidieh Park are two popular options, both of which offer stunning views of the city and plenty of green space to relax.
Malls and shopping centers: Many of Tehran’s malls and shopping centers are decorated for the holiday season, and some offer special events and activities for children. Some popular malls include the Palladium Mall, Darband Mall, and Kourosh Complex.
Christmas-themed restaurants: Some restaurants in Tehran offer special Christmas menus and decorations, making them a great choice for a festive meal. A few options to check out include Kitchen Table, Gumbo, and Cafe Naderi.
Where to go during Christmas in Isfahan?
If you’re looking for places to visit during Christmas in Isfahan, here are some ideas:
Naqsh-e Jahan Square: This UNESCO World Heritage site is a must-visit destination in Isfahan, and its beautiful architecture and expansive courtyard make it a great spot to enjoy the holiday season. During Christmas, the square may be decorated with lights and other festive decorations.
Christmas markets: Isfahan has several Christmas markets and bazaars that sell festive decorations and gifts. Some popular markets include Chocolate Bazaar, Abbasabad Bazaar, and Isfahan City Center.
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.
Bridges over the Zayandeh River: The Zayandeh River passes through Isfahan and is home to several historic bridges, including the Khaju Bridge and the Si-o-se-pol Bridge. These bridges make a beautiful spot to enjoy the holiday season, especially in the evening when they are lit up.
Christmas-themed restaurants: Isfahan has a variety of restaurants that offer special Christmas menus and decorations, making them a great choice for a festive meal. Some options to check out include Shahrzad Restaurant, Sofreh Rooz Restaurant, and Darvishi Restaurant.
Christmas Eve is not a public holiday in Iran, but it holds significant importance for the country’s Christian community.
Gift exchanging is a popular Christmas Eve tradition in Iran. Presents are usually wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree, ready to be opened on Christmas Day.
Visitors can explore Christmas markets and bazaars for gifts, decorations, and various items.
Traditional dishes like roasted chicken, rice pilaf, and shir berenj (rice pudding) are common on Christmas Eve. An array of sweets and desserts, including cookies, pastries, and halva, are also enjoyed.
Churches in Iran host special services and masses on Christmas Eve, often featuring traditional hymns, carols, and Bible readings.
Unique traditions for Christmas
Unique traditions for Christmas Eve include lighting candles, decorating trees, visiting loved ones’ graves, and sending Christmas cards.
Modest dress is advised when attending a Christmas Eve service in Iran, respecting its religious significance.
Families may celebrate with gatherings or dinners, and some participate in volunteering or charity during the holiday.
Iranians celebrating Christmas Eve often exchange greetings in Armenian or Persian, reflecting their cultural background.
As we delve into the celebrations of Christmas Eve in Iran, it’s evident that this occasion goes beyond cultural and religious divides, creating moments of happiness and celebration for all involved. The lights illuminating the streets of Tehran and the meaningful services in churches reflect Iran’s diverse culture. Christmas in Iran is not just about the festivities; it’s about coming together, sharing traditional meals, and enjoying the warmth of family and friends. This holiday highlights the universal themes of peace, joy, and community, uniting Iranians and visitors in the festive spirit. It’s a time when the true essence of Christmas – harmony, diversity, and unity – shines brightly across Iran.