Joining Them

What’s Christmas to you?


Joining Them
by Ghahremani

Don’t know what makes me think of the old saying, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” It sounds rather hostile, doesn’t it? But I have always been good at “Joining them” even where “beating them” hasn’t been the issue. As a child, I joined the village kids on my father’s farms and played their games. As a young adult, I wore a headscarf -- way back before it became mandatory -- so I could work in the earthquake-stricken city of Ghaen, where women observed hejab. Like a chameleon, I adapt and try to blend into my surrounding.

Last week, a friend and I were driving past a Christmas tree sign when I said, “Except for buying the kids’ gifts, I haven’t done a thing for Christmas!”

“I hate Christmas!” she declared.  

She hates any celebration, be it Iranian, American or otherwise. She must be the only Iranian who hates even Norooz and nor would she go near turkey at Thanksgiving. In the ten years that we’ve lived in this town, I only recall one gathering at her house, so I had assumed she wasn’t social. But how could anyone hate Christmas when it seems to bring out the best in most people?

I shrugged and said, “I enjoy celebrating it with my kids.”

She glared at me. “What’s Christmas to you?” and her tone indicated how ridiculous I sounded. I thought about her question for a moment. She was absolutely right. What is Christmas to the non-Christian, nonbeliever me? My mind flew back to the first time we had ever celebrated this holiday.

Our little girl must have been a little older than two and we were expecting our second baby when one day Lilly came home from nursery school, holding up a paper star covered in glitter.

“Oh, how beautiful,” I said, “Did you make that star?”

She pouted. “It’s not a star.”

“No? Then what is it?”

“A Christmas tree!”

On the way home, I made sure to point out a few decorated pine trees. “See? Now that’s a Christmas tree.”  

Normally, I stayed in touch with what went on in my child’s world and attended most of her school functions, but my husband had more of a knack for understanding her. No sooner had he come home than our little girl ran to him. “Daddy, daddy, see my Christmas tree?”

He picked her up, studied the star and nodded in admiration. “Wow! That sure would look lovely on your Christmas tree!”  

Late that night, as I went to check on my little one, I noticed the evergreen branch my husband must have placed in a pot for her, with the glittering star taped to its top.

The next year, our second child took much of our attention, and to cheer Lilly up, my husband bought her a small Christmas tree to hang her hand-made ornaments on. As the years went by, our tree grew, its ornaments turned more elaborate and the presents under it multiplied. Here we were, having “joined them.”  

Celebrating Christmas, New Year, July 4th or any other major holidays failed to take away the glamour of our Norooz and nor did it make us any less Persian. I made a point of fully celebrating the Persian New Year in Chicago years before the revolution had started and at a time when some Iranians were too “chic” to bother with such old traditions. To this day Norooz remains the biggest festivity around our house, but while our kids were growing, Christmas celebrations provided a home that resembled others, giving them a tradition to share with their peers.  

This love-hate relationship among immigrants toward their new home will never cease to amaze me. Despite the fact that our place of birth puts us under the category of “possible threats”, most of us enjoy a comfortable life and a semblance of security. Yet what seems to remain is the “us” versus “them” issue and a resistance to anything that might indicate we have “joined them.”  

Iranians must be among the most generous gift givers of this season, yet many make a point of not putting any lights around their homes, not decorating a tree and I even know of one family who forbids their children from any gift giving around December. True as it may be that Christmas belongs to Christians, at this point it has turned into a global, if not commercial, festivity. What a refreshing change it is to those of us who have so far associated religion with sheer morbidity. If it takes a tree to make my kids happy, so be it!

I’m proud of who I am and the fact that my language remains pure and has not changed into Finglisee, the fact that my kids prepare for Norooz a month in advance, and that Chai remains our beverage of choice have to be clear indications of my Iranian-ness.  

I may have been out of Iran for forty years, but Iran will never be out of me, not for a second, not in this lifetime. I join the world in celebration and, instead of blocking joy, I do what I can to spread the cheer. If that seems so unbearable to my community that they see it as having “joined them,” then maybe it’s about time!

Zohreh Ghahremani is the author of Sky of Red Poppies, available now on Amazon & most bookstores.


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Farah Rusta

اعظم خانم شما راست میگین خوب شد؟

Farah Rusta




 بابا این خانم قهرمانی اومدن به این زحمت این مقاله به این قشنگی نوشتن  منم به عقل ناقص خودم یه اظهار نظری کردم حالا شما باید حتما راز  منو از پرده بیرون بندازین و جلوی همه دنیا بگین که من پرونده روانی‌ دارم؟ پس کو اون خواهر دوستی‌، و هم نوع پروری‌؟ راستی‌ حالا که صحبت هم نوع پروری‌ شد لطفا شماره تلفن آنا لیست خودتونو اگه می‌شه لطف کنید خجالت میکشم پیش غریبه برم. کریسمستونم مبارک!


Azam Nemati

Celebrating nature as well

by Azam Nemati on

There is no dilemma in celebrating what is good about any event that makes people feel better.


I liked Christmas trees as child in Iran because our Christian neighbors celebrated it (fi you grew up in Khorramshahr and Abadan you remember there was a big Armenian community in each city who celebrated X-Mass)  and of course, I love seeing lights everywhere because it reminds me of various celebrations in Iran where trees are decorated with lights. Let’s not forget the wedding in Iran which the alleys and the connecting streets were also decorated with colorful lights.


I raised my child without any religion but made sure he understood what principles made a good human being. Christmas was about celebrating the nature and exchanging gifts. That is how I presented to him as a child.

Until he was ten years old, I did set up a charismas tree and gave him gifts but when he said “mommy, I know Santa Clause is not real”, I stopped having the charismas tree because it was too much work to decorate.


If I had the patience I would set it up because it’s so pretty to look at with all the lights and decorations and in my opinion you do not have to be a Christian to enjoy it.


I actually love Classic Christmas songs and this is the only time I listen to radio driving around so I can hear them. I go shopping for my family (for my trip back home) during this time so I can enjoy the decoration all over.


Zohreh jaan your friend’s hatred of holidays is deep rooted issue which needs professional help (may be she is a Jehovah witness. They do not believe in any celebration and they do not even like my collection of fairies!).


Joining them

by Ghahremani on

Dear Johnny Dollar:


Great name, a wonderful flashback to the series!

You are absolutely right and in fact, some of the first Christian churches were converted temples of Mitra. 

Ah! Wouldn't it be nice to celebrate Yalda on a snowy night sitting under the"Korsi", enjoy a variety of fruits and reading Hafez? Alas! Life is a one-way road. For now, this Tuesday I'll savor pomegranates in California's mild weather and reflect on what used to be. Happy Yalda night to you, too!

Jonny Dollar

Christmas (Mitra) is Perisn's gift to Christians! Celebrate it!

by Jonny Dollar on

Google (bing) Mithraism. This day actually was Mitra's B-day when the roman empire was Mithraic. When they converted they started calling it Jesus Bday. Jesus had no known B-day. This is our heritage with a different name. The wreath is replacement of the Ahura Mazda ring meaning circle of life... Three wisement (3 kings) in bible were persians.

I celebrate it as my heritage, and my american wife and our children as christians. Happy Yalda!

God is in your dell. Now, go ahead and find it! Good luck!


You are speaking to me too

by Monda on

Dear Zohreh Ghahremani,

Christmas to me, is one occasion to celebrate relationships, with my non-Iranian loved ones, as well as those who hold Nowrooz as the ultimate new year celebration. Having an Iranian-Italian household, plus raising children in the States, Christmas was most magical when I had my young ones close by. I used to go Nuts on decorative projects and handmade gifts, with the kids back then. I cherished their excitement so much. I even turned it into fun for myself too. 

I still don't care for the nonsensical commercial scene linked to the holidays, in general. 

Nowrooz has always been important in my household too, not to the point of a month long preparation like yours. Still very special and heartfelt.

Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones. 

Farah Rusta

Muslims in a Christian country

by Farah Rusta on

Dear Mrs Ghahremani,


I fully understand your dilemma, something that almost all of the first generation Iranian parents who have migrated to the Western Christian world must have experienced. You wrote and I quote:

"This love-hate relationship among immigrants toward their new home will never cease to amaze me. " 

The crux of the question is this: we Iranians are not just about any immigrants. We are Muslim born immigrants in a dominantly Christian country. We were not born and brought up in a Christian community and by Christian values. This dichotomy does not escape our children. And more importantly, the world is not allowed to forget that Iran is an unchristian country.

Perhaps the children of our children will be spared the bewilderment of this dual identity - perhaps.