The Iraqi government announced Monday that an amendment was approved to officially designate Christmas Day a national holiday.
The Iraqi Cabinet voted in favor of amending its national holidays law to include a holiday recognizing December 25 as “the occasion of the birth of Jesus Christ.”
The Iraqi government confirmed the change on social media, tweeting, “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”::
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
The move coincides with a visit to Iraq by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state. Parolin held a Christmas vigil mass with the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans at the Chaldean Cathedral of Saint Joseph in the Karrada district, according to Vatican News. On Wednesday, the high-ranking Vatican official is scheduled to meet with government officials and church representatives in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan’s regional government in Iraq.
Official estimates state 1.4 million Christians resided in Iraq prior to the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2003. Currently, approximately 300,000 Christians live in Iraq, many Iraqis having been driven out amid years of sectarian violence. In recent years, Christians in the Islamic State (ISIS)-controlled areas were mandated to convert to Islam or face death.
This Christmas, Iraqi Christians held prayer ceremonies across the war-damaged country, with mass celebrations taking place at Baghdad’s St George Chaldean Church and the Mar Addai Chaldean Church in Qaraqosh, located roughly eight miles from Mosul, a former ISIS stronghold.
In 2016, worshippers in Bartella celebrated Christmas — the first time in two years since ISIS was driven from the ancient Christian town.