The much-persecuted Christian population in Iraq is celebrating after Christmas Day was declared a national holiday. On Tuesday, the Iraqi government announced that, from now on, December 25 would be a celebrated officially across the Muslim-majority nation. Previously, the date was marked as a “religious break” and was only to be celebrated by the Christian community.
“The Cabinet votes to amend the national holidays law in order to make 25th December of each year, Christmas Day, an official holiday across Iraq,” an announcement read on the official government website. For the troubled nation’s Christians, who have been heavily persecuted by militant Islamist groups for the past years, the announcement came as a welcome gift. Now, the country’s Jesus-followers will be able to openly celebrate the birth of their savior.
“Happy Christmas to our Christian citizens, all Iraqis and to all who are celebrating around the world,” the government added in a tweet Monday. “We extend our warmest wishes to Christians in Iraq and around the world for a very happy and peaceful Christmas.” For a Muslim-majority country with a dark past of Islamic extremism, a government-mandated, open celebration of Christ’s birth is an unprecedented moment of civil progress.
The @IraqiGovt announces Christmas Day to be an official holiday across Iraq. Happy Christmas to our Christian citizens, all Iraqis and to all who are celebrating around the world.
— Government of Iraq – الحكومة العراقية (@IraqiGovt) December 24, 2018
Christian leaders were delighted at the government’s official recognition of the important religious holiday, particularly as 95% of the Iraqi population is Muslim and followers of Jesus remain marginalized in many areas. “Of course we can say the security situation is better than in previous years,” Baghdad Church leader Father Basilius told Reuters. “We enjoy security and stability mainly in Baghdad. In addition, Daesh was beaten.”
Back in 2003, there were some 1.4 million Christians residing in Iraq. Now, in part due to the brutal oppression of believers at the hands of militant Islamic groups, there are just 300,000 left. However, following the defeat of ISIS last year, many of the believers who were forced to flee have been returning to their ransacked homes.
Last Christmas, a smattering of Iraqi Christians celebrated the holiday for the first time in years. This year, following twelve months of relative stability, thousands more flocked to their churches for the most wonderful of celebrations. Pray for all those who continue to face persecution on account of their religious faith.