Celebrating Christmas in Iraq

( [email protected] ) Dec 26, 2003 07:57 PM EST

ARBIL, Iraq – Christmas Eve – Kurdish Christians celebrated their midnight mass at their traditional time without fear, filling the streets with praise and worship, unlike their counterparts at Baghdad who took heavy precautions in celebrating Christmas.

"The celebration of Christmas and New Year is great in Kurdistan. I'm sorry about the fellow Christians of Baghdad who cannot celebrate like us," said Tanya Noel, a student.

In Baghdad, churches canceled or rescheduled Christmas Eve midnight mass in fears of the continuing violence between the U.S. armed forces and Iraqi insurgents; the traditional masses were held Wednesday afternoon rather than midnight.

With shortages of electricity and gasoline, Christians also cancelled their traditional Christmas parties and chose to celebrate at home.

But in Ankawa, a small village close to Arbil, residents celebrated all night. Young men and women gathered in the streets while their parents attended mass.

"For us Christians living in the north of the country, we have no security concerns because the situation is good and our hope is that this situation will be extended to the whole country," said Bulus Shimon, who heads the town's cultural association.

Twelve churches in nine different Kurdish cities or villages celebrated midnight mass.

Zadok Adam, who leads a small Assyrian political party, said this is the first year Christians from Arbil, about 350 kilometres (217 miles) north of Baghdad, can visit relatives in the northern capital of Mosul about 100 kilometres to the west.

Under the Saddam Hussein, Arbil was part of an autonomous Kurdish zone but Mosul remained under Saddam's control, preventing contact between the two areas.

"It's great to be able this year to go around and visit our families in Mosul and other parts freely because we couldn't do it in the previous years," Adam said.

"We hope the situation will improve in Iraq to enable people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds to start rebuilding the country," Adam said.