Iraqi Christians to Celebrate Christmas Discreetly Amidst Violence

This year, many Iraqi Christians will be celebrating the season of peace and goodwill discreetly, wary of further attacks on their churches in a climate of increasing violence.

Last month, masked men detonated a bomb near an Orthodox Church in southern Baghdad, killing three people and wounding 34. In October, five Baghdad churches were attacked, causing damage but no casualties. And in August, similar attacks killed at least 10 and wounded nearly 50 Iraqi Christians.

In the most recent violence against Iraq’s minority Christian community, gunmen attacked two churches in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Dec. 7, forcing people to leave and setting off explosions inside the buildings that caused damage but no personal harm.

But despite the increasing violence, there are a number of Iraqi Christians who will carry on the Christian tradition--although perhaps without the festive hoopla.

Iraqi Baptist Jenny Muaffaq insists that shootings, car bombings and curfew regulations will not stop her celebrating the birth of Christ.

"People don't have the festive spirit but I will celebrate Christmas whatever it takes," she told Middle East Online.

And while the Chaldean Church--Iraq's largest Christian community--will be celebrating traditional Christmas mass this year despite fears of attacks, it will hold the mass five hours earlier than usual as was ordered by patriarch Emmanuel Delly. So instead of the the usual 10 p.m. (1900 GMT) Dec. 24 service, this year's service will be held at 5 p.m.

Shopkeepers with Christian clientele are also feeling the effects of the recent violence.

"We're selling a lot less Christmas trees than last year," shop assistant Jedid told Middle East Online.

"This time last year I had sold 500 trees, this year only 100," says Hassan Sadeq, a purveyor of plastic Christmas trees.

Saif Abdel Salam, 18, told the news agency, "Usually by mid-December we've sold them all and we re-order. But now you can see that the shop is still full."

"Many of my Christian clients have left the country," he said.

According to source, thousands of Christians have left Iraq in recent months with estimates ranging from 10,000 to 40,000.