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Iranians Celebrating Christmas Like Never Before

It's unbelievable, but true. This is Iran's former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a man once at loggerheads with President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama and the rest of the world, now wishing everyone peace and prosperity for Christmas, in English.

Christmas is full of miracles. It is One of the most popular Christmas messages on social media.

Hardline news website Mashregh News quoted a tweet which says some 1800 Christmas trees were sold in Tehran by December 24 at 2 to 5 million tumans each (roughly 200 to 500 U.S. dollars) each.

These are of course real pine trees for those who can afford buying them and fill the house with the fresh scent of the tree during the festive period.

An Iranian woman shopping Christmas items in a store in central Tehran, on Wednesday, December 26, 2018.
An Iranian woman shopping Christmas items in a store in central Tehran, on Wednesday, December 26, 2018.

According to conservative Mashregh News, 90 percent of those who bought Christmas trees in Tehran are not Christians, which means almost all are Muslims. Considering the website's political slant, the number of trees bought for Christmas could be higher and the website possibly downplayed the number to conceal Western cultural influence among Tehran's residents.

Christians and many non-Christian Iranians celebrate Christmas in Iran, albeit not on 25 December, but on 6 January. Thousands of Iranian Christians left Iran, mainly for the greater Los Angeles region in California beginning with the 1979 revolution in Iran.

However, there are at least 10,000 Iranian Christians, mainly Gregorian Armenians, living in the capital, Tehran, as well as sizable Christian communities in Isfahan, Tabriz, Urmia (Rezaeiyeh) and many other Iranian cities. Even the Shiite holy city of Mashad once had an Armenian Christian community. There are still quite a few left there, but in too small a number to be called a community.

Kimia Nik has tweeted this picture from Christmas in Tehran:

The Islamic Republic tolerates Christians belonging to traditional established churches as a respected minority, but prosecutes Muslims and others who convert into Christianity and find it hard to tolerate a Persian-speaking Church.

Several picture galleries on major news agencies such as ISNA, show people during Christmas shopping in Iran. And it is not just for Christians, as most young Iranians find celebrating Christmas fashionable and an opportunity to enjoy and celebrate life and love.

An Iranian on Twitter, posted a video of Vigen a popular Iranian-Christian singer singing this Christmas song in English with an Iranian-Armenian accent:

And some shops offer Christmas deals:

Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, cabarets and restaurants were fully booked for Christmas and New Year. Even in the gloomy 1980s when Iran was in the middle of a nasty long war with its neighbor Iraq, one could see rows of freshly cut pine trees along Takht-e Tavous Avenue (Now renamed as Motahari) from mid-December to mid-January.

Still, the busy road and Armenian-populated neighborhoods in its vicinity such as Sana'i, Jam, Villa (renamed as Nejatollahi) and Nader Shah (now renamed as Mirza-ye Shirazi) in Tehran come to life just before the festive season with lights, decorations and flowers.

Christmas items shopping in central Tehran, on Wednesday, December 26, 2018.
Christmas items shopping in central Tehran, on Wednesday, December 26, 2018.

In Isfahan, once the main hub for Armenian Christians who came to Iran from Armenia under the 16th century Safavid dynasty, the Julfa neighbourhood where the much celebrated Vank Church stands with its modest exterior and absolutely enchanting interior, Christmas is a big deal. Everyone, even the chastity religious police, forgets about strict rules and Christmas enlightens and glorifies narrow streets lined with red brick buildings and light brown clay and straw walls around them.

Ahmadinejad's unlikely message could be part of his charm offensive or a publicity stunt for the 2021 presidential race. He may or may not be the right man, but the message is right: God Bless you all. And that is what we all need.