This year’s Christmas for Christians in Iraq will indeed be the most special one. For the first time in the history of this Middle East country, Christmas has been recognized as a national holiday.

The Parliament in Baghdad unanimously decided to adopt the bill and declare Christmas in Iraq to be a national holiday which brought great joy for one of the oldest Christian communities in the world.

Until nowadays, according to the Iraqi law which determines national holidays, Christmas was ranked as a public celebration.

This news arrives shortly after the Holy See announced the visit of Pope Francis to Iraq in March next year, which will include visiting the cities of Bagdad and Mosul.

Announcement of Christmas as a national holiday, not only represents important and great news for all the Christians living in Iraq but they are also of enormous importance for interreligious dialogue and democratization of religious rights of religious minorities in the whole Middle East.

The recognition of Christmas as a national holiday, which originated from Parliament and the Government of Iraq is a strong message for the survival of Christians in Iraq, the International Christian Concern (ICC) reported.

Christian community in Iraq has been put at a disadvantage over the Muslim population since the creation of the Iraqi Republic. For the past two decades, especially since the US invasion in 2003., the Christian community in Iraq has been the target of terrorist attacks by extremists.

For example, in 2004., 12 people were killed in an attack on churches in Mosul and Baghdad, and in 2008., 40 people were killed in an attack on a church in Mosul.

The most horrific crime made towards the Christian community in Iraq took place in 2014. when Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIS) threatened Iraqi Christians to convert to Islam or pay tax, which all caused over 45.000,00 Christians to live in Mosul and over 125.000,00 Christians from all over Iraq, to leave their homes.

Nowadays the statistics are devastating for the Christian community in Iraq and show that their number has decreased from almost 1.5 million in the late 1980s to around 200.000,00 today.

It remains to hope for further normalization and interreligious cooperation between Muslims and Christians in Iraq, both with the aim of preventing Christians further emigration from Iraq and also encouraging the return of emigrated Christians to their homes. Declaring Christmas a national holiday in Iraq certainly contributes to that goal.