For many in the West, if not most, Christmas will be spent in relative peace. Time together with family and friends, presents under the tree and a hot dinner typify the day of celebration. Christmas is a national holiday in the United States, and most people will have a paid day off from work. You can sleep in if you’d like, assuming that the kids or grandkids don’t run downstairs and tear into the presents at an unreasonably early hour.
While there’s been a move over the past generation to stigmatize the use of “Merry Christmas” as a greeting, with politically correct types preferring the more sanitized and non-descript “Happy Holidays,” still there is general acceptance and understanding of what Christmas is. No one will beat you up for buying a Christmas tree or for having decorations on your house this year. Jesus is the reason for the season, as the saying goes, and no one is going to threaten you for celebrating the birth of Jesus this Christmas.
That’s not true, however, for millions of Christians who live in countries where Christians are a persecuted religious minority. In North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, Iran, Syria and many other countries Christians are not allowed to live out their faith the way you and I will do this Christmas. For them, Christmas is equally meaningful, but much different. They honor and worship the Christ child in secret.
Hanna is a Christian woman living in war-torn Damascus, Syria with her husband and two young daughters. Life in Syria for Christians has been incredibly difficult. Christian churches have been attacked and destroyed. Some Christians have lost everything they have, including homes, businesses and possessions. Some have even lost their life. Islamic extremists fighting in the Syrian civil war have systematically attacked areas that Christians have historically settled and called home – on some occasions even cutting off the flow of food, water and resources to try to starve out entire populations of Christian villages.
In a recent journal, Hanna describes what life is like for Christians this year in Syria.
“It’s snowing in Damascus now. It’s rare that it snows. We don’t have much to warm ourselves: there is a lack of oil and gas, and there are electricity blackouts that last for hours and hours. Yesterday I was at home with my daughter and we just wore all the clothes we could find.
“But we don’t complain, because we think of all of our fellow Syrians that are living in the streets now. It breaks my heart if I think of the children that fled with only their summer clothes on them. We would love to go there and help them, but traveling to the area they live in is far too dangerous.
“No, Christmas will not be a time of celebration for us this year. How can we celebrate when people around us are suffering?
“We will have some special prayers in church, but we don’t have any decorations. Having Christmas decorations outside the church would provoke the terrorist to attack us. They already send the Christians a message: they have special ‘Christmas gifts’ prepared for us: three bomb cars.
“Last week I went to the market to get some hats, socks and candy for the kids in our church. Normally we would buy them some games, but toys are way too expensive now. At least they will have something to keep them warm, that’s more important than toys in this situation. I want to give those gifts to the children and hope that they will know that Jesus still loves them, no matter what’s going on around us.”
Also, In Iraq Christians won’t be able to celebrate Christmas in peace. Tariq, a pastor in Baghdad, states: “Churches are targets for terrorists, especially on Christmas Day. Many Christians stay home because they are too afraid. Due to security concerns, the freedom to celebrate Christmas is growing less and less.”
Celebrate Christmas this year with a profound sense of gratitude for all that you have. And pray, earnestly pray, for those Christians such as Hanna and Tariq in places such as Syria and Iraq, where Christmas is a dangerous holiday.
Dr. David Curry is President and CEO for Open Doors USA (www.OpenDoorsUSA.org, based in Santa Ana, California), the American arm of Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry supporting persecuted Christians since 1955.
Publication Date: December 20, 2013.