As Christmas and the New Year approach, festive decorations appear in Christian parts of Tehran – and in other areas of the city, too.
In recent years, the signs of celebration have moved into other parts of the Iranian capital. In an overwhelmingly Shia Muslim city, the municipal authorities now put up banners celebrating the birth of Jesus on most of the main streets.
For the last few years, Christmas has roughly coincided with Ashura, the most important date in the Shia calendar, commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hossein. Ashura has its own tradition of banners, so that on some streets happy images of Santa Claus can be seen alongside the imagery of mourning.
Christmas trees and decorations sell well even though they are fairly expensive. A two-metre real tree is a luxury item that can cost the equivalent of 1,000 US dollars, while a cheaper and smaller plastic version sells for 100 dollars or less.
The artificial trees are more popular these days, and generally come in from China or Southeast Asia. Strangely enough, traders say some of the figures of Santa and his reindeer are brought into Iran from Saudi Arabia.
Christmas tree sellers say about half their customers are not Christians.
Some Iranian Christians mark Christmas on December 25 followed by New Year’s Eve on December 31, while Armenians mark the Nativity at the same time as the Epiphany on January 6.
As young Iranians try to get into the Christians’ parties, others are taking advantage of special Christmas holiday packages to Europe and Latin America.