Tehran, January 2, 2015
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 across Christian neighborhoods of Iran, it added.
According to the Statistical Center of Iran (SCI), over 117,000 Christians reside in Iran, most of whom are Armenians who are followers of the Oriental Orthodox branch of Christianity. More than 46,000 members of this minority group live in Tehran. Assyrians, Catholics, Protestants, and Evangelical Christians make up the remainder of Iran’s Christian population.
Despite being a minority, Iran’s Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians are recognized as established religious minorities and are represented in parliament, and enjoy freedom to practice their religions and perform their religious rituals.
“You cannot celebrate Christmas in any Islamic country the way we do in Iran,” Rafi Moradians, an Iranian Armenian in Tehran, told Al-Monitor. Referring to the community’s exclusive sport and cultural club, Rafi said, “Authorities do not impose any restrictions on us. We attend church services and there are also special celebrations at the Ararat Club.”
In recent years, 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.
Ordinary Iranians are not alone in the holiday celebrations and in exchanging greetings at Christmas time. This year, President Hassan Rouhani sent season’s greetings to Pope Francis and world leaders. Through his Twitter account, Rouhani reached out to Christians around the globe, as well as those in Iran.
“May Jesus Christ, the prophet of peace and love, bless us all on this day. Wishing Merry #Christmas to those celebrating, esp #Iranian Christians,” he tweeted.
Also, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif used his 100th tweet to express hope for a more peaceful 2015.
The Twitter account belonging to the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei also featured a series of messages on the occasion of Christmas. One of the messages read: “It’s time for all caring Muslims, Christians & Jews to obey the prophets & truly honor #Jesus’ birthday by standing up against Israeli crimes.”