One of the things that I miss most about the US is the whole Christmas atmosphere- the hustle and bustle of shopping, the Salvation Army bells, trees lined up on the sidewalks, lights illuminating streets and buildings, radio stations playing Christmas songs on a loop, watching back-to-back showings of Elf on TV… it’s all so cozy. So going on my third Christmas away from home, I can say with certainty that, yah, I miss it a lot.
Iran has a minority Armenian Christian population that celebrates Christmas just like other countries. I had heard about their festivities in the Armenian neighborhood of Tehran, so this year, I headed over to Mirzaye Shirazi Street to join in the Christmas splendor, and it felt like a little piece of home was placed back into my heart.
I wasn’t expecting the grand Christmas markets of Germany, Austria, or even those of New York, but what I saw was definitely much more than I ever expected. Rows of Christmas trees cut the sidewalks in half, and people were choosing which one to take home. Stores were filled with ornaments, candles, angels, snow globes, mugs, and gingerbread houses. Behind the windows, reindeer sat alongside dancing mechanical Santas playing the saxophone, inviting passersby to take endless selfies against the displays which were decorated with just as many Christmas balls and tinsel as you had hoped. The pastry shop was packed with locals buying Christmas cookies and cakes, or just a hot cup of coffee to warm up on a frigid night. And the last time I was this happy to see Santa Claus, Baba Noel as he’s known in Persian, was probably when I was 6 years old. But there he was… charging 5,000 tomans a picture… just like the Santas of the great American malls. And to top it all off, Wham!’s Last Christmas was playing for everyone to enjoy.
Most of the shopkeepers were super friendly and cheerful, photobombing the selfies and group pictures with smiles, but others looked on with a more austere face and what I imagined to be a thought bubble that read, “What's with all the pictures? Haven’t these Iranians ever seen Christmas preparations before?” Of course we have. It’s just surprising to see them here, in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Merry Christmas to all who celebrate!