Monday, December 29, 2003
Christmas in Baghdad...
Explosions and bombing almost all day yesterday and deep into the night. At some points it gets hard to tell who is bombing who? Resistance or Americans? Tanks or mortars? Cluster bombs or IEDs? Nothing on the news… to see the reports on CNN, Abu Dhabi, and Al-Arabia you'd think there was nothing going on in Baghdad beyond the usual thumps and thuds. Yesterday was *very* unusual. Embassies, mines, residential areas and the Green Zone… and the sirens. I hate the sirens. I can stand the explosions, the rattling windows, the slamming doors, the planes, the helicopters… but I feel like my heart is wailing when I hear the sirens.
Kids in Iraq also believe in Santa Claus, but people here call him 'Baba Noel' which means, "Father Noel". I asked the children what he looked like and they generally agreed that he was fat, cheerful, decked in red and had white hair. (Their impertinent 11-year-old explains that he's fat because of the dates, cheerful because of the alcohol and wears red because he's a communist!) He doesn't drop into Iraqi homes through the chimney, though, because very few Iraqi homes actually have chimneys. He also doesn't drop in unexpectedly in the middle of the night because that's just rude. He acts as more of an inspiration to parents when they are out buying Christmas gifts for the kids; a holiday muse, if you will. The reindeer are a foreign concept here.
The annual ritual around Christmas for many Christians in Baghdad used to be generally hanging out with family and friends on Christmas Eve, exchanging gifts and food (always food- if you're Iraqi, it's going to be food) and receiving guests and well-wishers. At 12 am, many would attend a Christmas service at their local church and light candles to greet the Christmas spirit. Christmas day would be like our first day of Eid- eating and drinking, receiving family, friends and neighbors and preparing for the inevitable Christmas party in the evening at either a friend's house or in one of the various recreational clubs in Baghdad.
At one point during the evening, the house was dark and there was no electricity. We sat, gathered around on the ground, eating date-balls and watching Abu Josef's dog chew on the lowest branch of the tree. The living room was lit by the warm light radiating from the kerosene heater and a few Christmas candles set on the coffee table. Abu Josef's phone suddenly rang shrilly and Abu Josef ran to pick it up. It was his brother in Toronto and it was the perfect Christmas gift because it was the first time Abu Josef got an overseas call since the war- we were all amazed.
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