Dacon Arbi Keshishiyan is in charge of Public Relations of Sarkif Church, one of the biggest charges in Iran.
Christianity in Iran has had a long history. Although it has always been a minority religion in Iran, overshadowed by the majority state religions - Zoroastrianism in the past and Shiia Islam today, Iranian Christians have always lived in harmony with other religious groups and have had the same rights as their Zoroastrian or Muslim countrymen. On the other hand, Iranian Christians respect the laws of the county, and have great enthusiasm for participating in the different aspects of the country's social and political affairs.
The figure for the total number of Christians in Iran (of all denominations) has been estimated at between 200,000 and 250,000. The Armenians, Assyrians and Caledonians represent the more traditional religious groupings in Iran and they constitute over 90 % of Iran's Christian population.
Christmas in Iran is known as the Little Feast. For the first 25 days of December, a great fast is observed. During these days no meat, eggs, milk or cheese is eaten. It is a time of peace and meditation, a time for attending services at the church. After the church service of December 25, Iranian Christians enjoy Christmas dinner which they call the Little Feast.
In fact, Christmas Eve is the last day of the fast. Almost before dawn on Christmas Day, the people attend Mass to receive Communion and it is not until they have received this Communion that they are permitted to break their fast. The main dish for Christmas Day is a kind of chicken stew. It is cooked in large quantities and lasts for several days.
Gifts are not exchanged, but children get new clothes which they wear on Christmas Day.
People try to make be ready for the Christmas Day. Churches are being painted and ready to celebrate this occasion. Nowadays, Christmas is taken more into consideration than before in Iran.
You can see Christmas trees in many places; and people are in increasingly getting interested to know more about our religious rituals. That is why Iranian Christians enjoy sharing their happiness with others as they like to do theirs with them.
In Iran Christmas is not celebrated in the same way people do all over the world. The ceremonies are somehow similar to other Christians of the world, but there are also some differences. As one Christian woman noted, "the most important thing for me as a grandmother is to buy the best gifts I can for my grandchildren and gather the whole family together on this day ".
Dacon Arbi Keshishiyan noted, "An evergreen coniferous tree is the symbol of immortality for us. This tree has no fall and the leaves never change colors, so the life of Christians has no fall. We also believe that Baba Noel (name of Santa Claus in Iran) is a great, kind, and old father who tries to make children happy. The story of Baba Noel goes back to the 4th century AD, when a bishop by the name Nicholas who used to buy gifts for the poor girls who were about to get married would threw the gifs through the windows without people realizing who he was for long, started this tradition. After that, buying gifts were included in Christian rites. Our message is that if God were to cast His mercy upon us by bringing Jesus Spirit to life thousands of times, as long as Jesus is not born in the heart of people every day we never reach salvation."
- CHRISTMAS AND THE IRANIAN CHRISTIANS, IranMania News, Iran, December 26, 2005