(Persia Digest) – I walk in the back alleys of Jolfa towards Vank Cathedral. As I get closer to the Cathedral, the crowds of Muslim Iranians and Christian Armenian-Iranians grow larger as they surround Vank like a group hug.
The entrance to the Cathedral is blocked by people from Iran and visiting tourists. Most of the people here are girls and boys enjoying the Christmas celebrations and holidays.
Jolfa Square has three cathedrals and churches called Vank, Holy Bethlehem, and St Mary Church. All the back alleys are cobbled and the shops are beautifully decorated. Christmas trees and Father Christmas add to the happiness of the joyful occasion.
Akhtamar confectionery has been in this area for forty years. I walk into the shop and come across Mr Khajador’s kind, friendly daughter and grandchildren who have baked cakes to sweeten our lives. Their magnificent Christmas tree attracts every visitor.
Sandra is Ariot Senior’s daughter and Meher and Vahanoush are his grandchildren. I am warmly greeted and start talking to the young hospitable Meher who explains the joyous occasion being celebrated in Jolfa and the welcome it is given by Muslim Iranians. He says: “The City Council has put Christmas lights. In addition to the lights in the Cathedral, people have also decorated their homes with Christmas lights. Many Iranians come to this area this time of year because they are interested in finding out more about our customs and traditions. But the ceremony and prayers in the Cathedral is for Christians only.”
Meher points out to the rituals observed by Iranian-Armenians over Christmas and the New Year, adding: “Our celebrations take place in January. We cook a special dinner of fresh herb quiche, smoked fish, and fresh fish. We don’t eat red meat on this night. Families gather together on the eve of 6 January to perform the Christmas ceremony and we go to church on the morning of 6 January to celebrate the birth of Christ in another special ceremony. But we start visiting our elders as from 1 January and wish them a Happy New Year.”
Iran has been home to Armenians for centuries now and they have known and loved it as their country. When I ask Meher where he would prefer to celebrate Christmas, he firmly says: “Iran.”
I leave Akhtamar and start walking towards Vank Cathedral again. I see girls and boys standing at the top of the street, wearing Father Christmas hats and enjoying themselves. A little further down, a foreign tourist is wholeheartedly watching Iranians celebrate the birth of Christ. I stand in the midst of the crowds outside Vank and listen to its bells ring.
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