Christians keep their celebrations under tighter wraps than usual, write Lara Jakes & Bushra Juhi
Christmas is bumping into Shiite Islam’s most mournful ceremony this year, forcing Iraqi Christians to keep their celebrations under tighter wraps than usual.
Midnight Mass will again be celebrated in daylight across Baghdad, and security around churches is heavier for a community that’s been threatened by sectarian violence since the 2003 US-led invasion.
A deadly Christmas eve ambush of a Christian bus driver and a bombing earlier this week targeting a 1,200-year-old church, both in Mosul, underscored their concerns.
But this year, Christians feeling an extra need for caution are toning down the Christmas glitz, and the plastic Santas aren’t selling as well as usual. At least one Catholic archbishop has discouraged Christmas decorations and public merrymaking out of respect for Ashoura, a period of Shiite mourning and self-flagellation.
“We used to put the Christmas tree with its bright lights close to the window in the entrance of our home,” said Mr Saad Matti, a 51-year-old surgeon and Basra city councilman.
“But this year, we put it away from the window as a kind of respect for the feelings of Shiite Muslims in our neighbourhood because of Ashoura,” he said.
Ashoura caps a 10-day period of self-flagellation and mourning for the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein, killed in 680 AD during a battle that sealed the split between Shiites and Sunnis.
During the 10 days, throngs of Shiite pilgrims march to the holy Iraqi city of Karbala, 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Baghdad.