Merry Communism: Christmas in the World’s Rogue States

A young boy dressed in a Santa Claus outfit waves a flag with a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as people gather in the centre of the Syrian capital Damascus to watch the lighting of a giant Christmas tree on December 23, 2018. (Photo by LOUAI BESHARA / AFP) …
LOUAI BESHARA/AFP via Getty Images

The Christmas season is celebrated all around the world, with many non-Christian countries and peoples also marking and participating in the festivities.

But what is Christmas season like for those in some of the world’s rogue and authoritarian states? Breitbart takes a look at their varying approaches:

North Korea

In communist North Korea, Christmas is effectively a non-event. With all forms of religion banned, the large majority of North Koreans are not even aware of who Santa Claus is or the meaning behind the festival.

Despite it being the world’s most dangerous place for them to live and worship, Christian communities reportedly comprise around 1.7 percent of the country’s population. One can assume that there are some families who choose to celebrate the event in secrecy, although by doing so they run a severe risk of arrest, torture, or even execution.

Those at the top of Pyongyang’s hierarchy appear to be well aware of the importance of Christmas in the western world. On Monday, the regime threatened to launch a “Christmas gift” for the United States, presumably in the form of another missile test-launch as they continue to aggressively their nuclear weapons program.

China

China’s approach to Christmas is bound up in the cynicism of the country’s communist regime. Although practicing religion is unofficially illegal, leaders in Beijing view the commercial aspect of the season as a chance to promote economic growth, while attempting to use the season as a means of reinforcing “patriotic” messaging.

However, Christmas is not a public holiday in China and authorities do not celebrate it as a religious holiday, with hardline nationalists denouncing it as a Western cultural influence that waters down traditional Chinese culture. This pushback was highlighted last year when some cities banned all Christmas decorations and celebrations.

The Chinese state has recently stepped up its crackdown on religious celebrations, although the sheer size of the Christian population has made this a difficult task. Last year, many churches across the country defied authorities by holding multiple services across the festive season.

Venezuela

With a population that is over 98 percent Roman Catholic, Christmas is celebrated across Venezuela as the most important religious festival of the year. Yet sadly, the majority of Venezuelans have not felt much cheer over recent years, with the country crumbling under the pressure of the worst economic and humanitarian crisis in its history.

The bleakness of reality does not stop the socialist regime from weaponizing the Christmas season to try and distract from the country’s problems, with dictator Nicolás Maduro declaring himself a committed Christian whose left-wing politics are partly inspired by the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Venezuela can probably lay claim to having the most extensive Christmas celebrations in the world, with Maduro this year announcing the start of the Christmas season at the beginning of November, meaning over 60 days of festivities.

The Maduro regime has also attracted attention for its various initiatives aimed at promoting the Christmas season. Some of these include the seizure of thousands of toys from private businesses, meager “Baby Jesus” bonuses for public sector workers, and the release of socialist-themed Christmas carols featuring Maduro himself.

Russia

Supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim he has allowed Russia to re-embrace its strong Christian heritage in the post-communist era.

Having previously been banned under the Soviet Union, Christmas is now promoted as a public holiday, with the country enjoying its own wide array of specific traditions. However, Christmas Day is on the 7th of January as the Russian Orthodox Church follows the old ‘Julian’ calendar for religious celebration days.

Ironically, in Russia, it is those Christians that do not celebrate Christmas who are seeing their liberties eroded. For reasons that are somewhat unclear, authorities have over recent years launched a crackdown against Jehovah’s Witnesses, accusing them of fostering extremism. Around 250 Jehovah’s Witnesses are currently awaiting criminal trial, with Human Rights Watch pointing to the “dozens of home searches, raids, interrogations, and other acts of harassment and persecution.”

Syria 

Despite being widely considered one of the world’s most brutal and murderous dictators, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has long attracted sympathy from Christians and other religious minorities for the country’s allegedly secular approach to religion.

Although Assad is an Alawite Shia Muslim, he has long used Christians in public events to gain sympathy with the West. With the country largely afflicted by armed conflict, most Christmas festivities take place in the capital of Damascus, the only area largely unaffected by the near decade-long civil war.

With Christians comprising of around ten percent of Syria’s population, those who typically celebrate the festival are free to do so at state-approved churches. Syria also has a range of its own Christmas traditions, which include locking the gates of one’s home as a reminder of past persecutions, a period of fasting, and a family’s recital of the nativity Gospels around a bonfire.

However, the extent and sincerity of Assad’s support for Christians is a subject of debate. In September, The Washington Examiner noted allegations that Assad has secretly been behind the occupation on churches, only to later “liberate” them for propaganda purposes.

The Christian Post describes Assad’s treatment of Christians as “nothing short of tyrannical,” describing them as “mere pawns in the Assad regime’s maintenance of power. They also cite statistics from the Syrian Network for Human Rights that Assad’s forces are responsible for the destruction of over 60 percent of all the churches in Syria over the course of the civil war.

Cuba

Unlike their Venezuelan allies, the Castro regime in Cuba remains actively hostile towards Christmas, seeing organized religion as a threat to communist ideals. Having declared Cuba an atheist state, Fidel Castro prohibited its celebration in 1969 and did not lift the ban until the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1997.

The period came to be known in Cuba as “The Silent Christmases,” with Christian families solely celebrating the festival at home and away from public viewing. Although some Christmas decorations can now be seen around the island, celebrating the festival in public is highly frowned upon, and in the most overt of cases, may even lead to prosecution.

Iran

As the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is not surprising that Christmas celebrations are few and far between. Perhaps surprisingly, publicly celebrating Christmas is not against Iranian law, presumably because the numerical insignificance of the country’s Christian population (330,000-370,000) is not considered a significant threat to the theocratic state.

Most Christians in Iran are of Armenian descent and they observe the festival by refraining from eating meat, eggs, milk, or cheese until Christmas Day. When the day finally arrives, they celebrate by feasting on a traditional chicken stew known as harissa, or the traditional roast turkey. Although the exchanging of presents is less common, children often receive new clothes from their presents.

While worship is technically allowed under the Islamic Republic’s constitution, a Muslim converting to Christianity is considered a serious crime. The state’s powerful mullahs last year ordered a crackdown on Christian leaders deemed to be exerting “foreign influence,” in what some speculate was a retaliation against the U.S. for the re-imposition of economic sanctions.

Follow Ben Kew on Facebook, on Twitter at @ben_kew, or email him at bkew@breitbart.com

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