Christmas is celebrated by the Christian community of Iran. Most of Christians are Iranian Armenians and Assyrians who celebrate Christmas. They live in cities such as Tehran, Urmia, Tabriz, and Isfahan.
Islam is the official religion of Iran, However, like other countries in the region, Christmas is celebrated in the country. 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.
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
Christmas trees decorated with red, green and gold gift boxes placed behind shop windows or at the entrances of different shopping malls and hotels can be seen, especially in the Christian neighborhoods of Tehran.
During Christmas in Iran, decorated trees, along with Nativity scenes of the Virgin Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, can also be seen in shops along Mirza Shirazi Avenue and Ostaad Nejatollahi (Villa Avenue) and its surrounding neighborhoods in central Tehran, where many Iranian Christians reside.
Church services and mass during Christmas
In Iran, Christmas is primarily celebrated by the country’s Christian community, which makes up less than 1% of the population. As such, most Christmas Eve services and masses in Iran are held in Armenian Apostolic churches or other Christian denominations, such as Roman Catholic or Anglican churches.
The services and masses on Christmas Eve are some of the most important events of the holiday for Christians in Iran. Depending on the church, there may be multiple services held throughout the day and evening on Christmas Eve, with each service featuring its own music, prayers, and readings.
Few churches in Iran also have a special Christmas Eve mass or midnight liturgy, which usually starts around midnight on December 24th and lasts until the early hours of Christmas Day. This mass is a key part of the Christmas Eve celebration and is attended by many members of the local Christian community, as well as visitors from other parts of Iran or abroad.
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 mood, however, is not just limited to the Christian neighborhoods of Tehran, as some shops, especially those in the northern parts of the city, dedicate at least some section of their shop windows to decorations such as candy canes, snow globes and Santa Claus figures.
In recent years and during Christmas in Iran, municipal authorities have also put up banners celebrating the birth of Jesus on many main streets and at the St. Sarkis Armenian Church on Villa Avenue, where a service is held every year.
Unlike other countries in the region where public celebration of Christmas is limited to hotels frequented by foreigners, there is no such restriction in Tehran during Christmas in Iran. The sale of Christmas ornaments, which during the first years of the Islamic Revolution was limited to Christian districts, can now be seen around town.
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.
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.
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. However, for those who celebrate it, it is an important holiday that is recognized by the country’s Christian community.
Exchanging gifts is a common tradition among those who celebrate Christmas Eve in Iran. Gifts are often wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree to be opened on Christmas Day.
There are also Christmas markets and bazaars, where visitors can purchase gifts, decorations, and other items.
Some traditional dishes that are served on Christmas Eve include roasted chicken, rice pilaf, and shir berenj (a type of rice pudding). There may also be a variety of sweets and desserts, such as cookies, pastries, or halva.
Christmas Eve is typically celebrated with special services and masses at churches in Iran. These may feature traditional hymns and carols, as well as readings from the Bible.
There are also several unique traditions associated with Christmas Eve, such as lighting candles and decorating trees, visiting the graves of loved ones, and sending Christmas cards.
It is recommended to dress modestly when attending a Christmas Eve service in Iran, out of respect for the religious significance of the occasion.
In addition to attending church services, some families may hold special gatherings or dinners, while others may choose to volunteer or donate to charity during the holiday season.
Iranians who celebrate Christmas Eve may greet each other with a merry Christmas greeting, which may be in Armenian or Persian language depending on the background of the person.