for Christmas in Baghdad
(published in the San
Antonio Current, Jan. 1, 2004)
is coming in Baghdad, and like in other cities
around the world, people contemplate the spirit
and the nature of God as they prepare for the
Season of Peace.
there are other preparations as well.
the streets of Baghdad, stores and hotels display
artificial trees festooned with lights. "We
Wish You a Merry Christmas" continuously
blares its tinny, electronic greeting to shoppers.
Diesel generators on the sidewalk keep the stores
bright in the spirit of the season as pedestrians
hurry by, and taxis and the occasional American
humvee patrol clatter down the street.
the numerous internet cafes, patrons type out
their own greetings--instant messages and e-mail
to friends throughout the cyberworld. Foreigners
and Iraqis sit side-by-side as they search the
web for the latest news and information, from
around the corner and around the globe. Students
from the University of Baghdad use the Internet
for research, since the libraries are no more;
they were looted and burned during the aftermath
of the invasion in March. Bankers and business
owners are there, too, communicating with their
remote offices, customers, and suppliers. After
the Coalition bombed the telephone exchanges,
phone service has been limited to the few who
can afford satellite phones.
of soldiers, mostly from the U.S. but also representing
Poland, Italy, Great Britain, and other Coalition
members, ready for Christmas as well. Within
military encampments, from Tikrit to Babylon,
tinsel and stockings surround the flag, and
warriors cheer one another while preparing for--in
many cases--their first Christmas away from
home. Their thoughts turn to the families as
they open care packages and try to envision
their loved ones opening presents from Santa.
in Tikrit sing carols as they decorate for Christmas
the Baghdad 21st. Combat Support Hospital, Col.
Douglas flips a switch to illuminate a tree,
coinciding with the lighting ceremony in Ft.
Hood, Texas, before returning to his patients.
back in the U.S., both regular and reserve soldiers
plan poignant holidays in advance of being shipped
out to Iraq. There'll be extra hugs for their
children, parents, and spouses--hugs that may
have to last a while, because they can't predict
when the occupation of Iraq will end, or when
they will return.
leaders of the churches of Baghdad--Catholic,
Assyrian, Coptic, Chaldean, and Protestant--
prepare for an influx of worshippers for Christmas
eve mass and candlelight services, despite newly
announced security threats. Wreaths hang on
the plain whitewashed walls of the Presbyterian
visitors might be surprised to learn that Christmas
is honored in the Muslim quarters of the city
as well. Imams remind their flocks of the close
ties between Christianity and Islam, and of
the reverence held for Jesus and Mary. They
also prompt visitors to understand that Islam
is derived from the Arabic word salaam (and
the Hebrew word shalom), meaning peace. As one
Sheik puts it, through submission to the divine
will and guidance of Allah (God), people find
peace with their creator, with each other, and
all of Allah's creation.
Abas, a mother of four boys, places a tree next
to the television set in the living room each
year to celebrate Christmas, even though they
are Muslim. Christmas has long been an official
holiday in Baghdad and the family enjoys both
the resemblance to the Muslim holiday of Eid
and the gift-giving. Since electricity has been
sporadic, they eat dinner and visit with neighbors
by the light of a hurricane lamp.
Abas (left) with his cousin and aunt in background
(by Xmas tree)
Abu Nawas Street, devoid of traffic since one
end was blocked off by concrete barriers, the
tableau of Christmases past is being replayed.
There in the darkened and looted shell of an
electronics store, lives Habib Abid, unemployed
since the war, who has taken refuge here with
his wife Nahida and their children. They sleep
on the marble floor, but they cannot keep out
the damp cold--it seeps through the cardboard
and rags stuffed in the gate in a futile barrier
against the wind. There is no room at the inn
for these poorest of the poor. Their only comforts
are the gifts of blankets and the attentions
that a small group of American peace activists
furnishes during regular visits.
peace activists, members of the Christian Peacemaker
Teams (CPT), have been working with families
throughout Iraq to provide a nonviolent alternative
to war. They are living proof that small groups
of ordinary individuals--armed with the gifts
of observation, intervention, peacemaking, and
most importantly, love--can make a vital difference
in the world. In ways both simple and grand,
everyone in Baghdad is preparing for Christmas.
in the promise of the ages, peace will come.
founder of Texans for Peace, took a two-week
trip to Iraq, undertaken through the Christian
Peacemaker Teams organization of Chicago. He
is the owner of Acceleros, a high-tech firm
in San Antonio.