As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Christmas, some of them are planning their festivities in secret. In some countries, they are forced to be discreet, or else risk the wrath of the authorities. To show solidarity with persecuted Christians, a Facebook group has invited them to send in photos of their Christmas decorations.
The initiative, called “My Treedom”, was launched in December, and has also spread to Twitter under the hashtag #MyTreedom. It was launched by Lisa Daftari, an Iranian-American journalist. On the Facebook page, she invites Christians from all over the world, and in particular from countries where they are persecuted, to send in photos that show how they celebrate Christmas despite the challenges.
So far, about 30 photos have been posted, including this photo from Brunei, a tiny state where about two-thirds of its 430,000 citizens are Muslim. The country’s sultan recently forbade the country’s Christians from celebrating Christmas. Last year, he had already announced that Brunei would shift towards sharia law, eventually adopting punishments like death by stoning and severed limbs. But, apparently, that hasn’t stopped some from putting up Christmas trees and donning Santa hats.
Photos were also sent in from Kobane, a Kurdish city in northern Syria that was the scene of bloody clashes between Kurdish forces and Islamic State group fighters between July 2014 and January 2015. Last year, it would have been difficult to take such a photo.
In Kerbala, Irak, Christians sent in this photo of a Christmas tree to show that – for now – the city is a haven for Iraqi Christians fleeing areas occupied by the Islamic State group. But they ask the question: “For how long?”
In Saudi Arabia, this family posted a photo of a Christmas tree imported from Bahrein. Saudi authorities have prohibited any religion other than Islam from being practiced in public. Though about 4 percent of the population is Christian (1.5 million people), there are no official churches.
Then there’s this photo, which was taken in northern Nigeria, where the terrorist group Boko Haram has threatened Christians.
“My Treedom” has also published photos of people living in countries where they have the freedom to celebrate Christmas, but who want to show solidarity with those who can’t. There are photos taken in Dubai, where there are multiple churches and where practicing Christianity is allowed, and from Bahrein, which guarantees freedom of religion and has a significant Christian minority. Several photos were also sent in from Iran. There, Muslims that have converted to Christianity face threats and must practice their faith underground, but Armenian and Assyrian Christians are allowed to worship in churches. Moreover, the celebration of Christmas has become increasingly popular with young Iranians, whether they are Christian or Muslim.