by Canon Andrew White, the Anglican Vicar of Baghdad, re-posted with permission
The Western world is already preparing for the great day on December the 25th.
Presents are bought, decorations put up and copious amounts of food will be purchased and consumed in preparation for the festive season.
For us though, here in Baghdad, things could not be more different. Our Christian
people know that the Big Eid (celebration) is coming. They know that we are
about to celebrate the coming of the Christ Child. There is no razzmatazz; the
only decoration will be the Christmas tree in the church. There are no presents - apart from what we get for the children and the boxes given
by Samaritans Purse. For the children we work at bringing them some joy
and fun in other ways. We will dress somebody up as Papa Noel (Santa Clause) as we give children their presents. The reality is that this celebration here is totally
different from festivities elsewhere in the world.
Here, despite the media no longer showing our existence, we still live in
violence and terrorism. I still move around my parish surrounded by hoards of
soldiers and police- yet we are still happy. For us there is total joy.
Christmas for us is first and foremost a time of spiritual celebration. We may
have nothing, we may live in total turmoil but we celebrate this Christmas, like every Christmas, as the coming of the Christ Child. For us Christmas is simply a celebration of God coming to be amongst us in Jesus.
I never forget the day several Christmas's ago when I told the children about Bethlehem, where I used to live and where Jesus first
came. A little boy named Yousif put his hand up and said "Jesus did not first go to
Bethlehem he came first to Iraq". When I asked why, he told me that when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were in the flames there was another
person with them – Jesus. Yousif told me that this event occurred just down the
road, in Babylon. So I was seriously put in my place! Each time I sing "Oh little town of Bethlehem" I now have to think to myself that Jesus was indeed here, in Iraq, first. And he still is here.
So for us Christmas is simply about Emmanuel; our Lord amongst us. We celebrate the fact of his incarnation. There is no food or parties but what we do have is a real celebration of faith. Christmas is simply a time of spiritual renewal. At the beginning of every service in Arabic we say the Eucharist “Allah hu ma ana, Baruch ha qudos ma ana athan.” For us this sums up the reason we celebrate - "The lord is here and His Spirit is with us".