Easter Sunday: Traditions in Iraq and Around the World

This Sunday, April the 17th, millions of Christians around the globe will be celebrating Easter and commemorating the resurrection of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Among them are most Protestant denominations, Roman Catholics, and a majority of people in Europe and the Americas. Even among the unaffiliated, Easter is still a celebration of new life and springtime, and a reason to attend a religious service or gather with family. 

 Easter is the most sacred holiday for the Body of Christ, although it is slightly less significant in the sphere of Western culture than Christmas. You will find it to be less commercialized (although many still use it as an opportunity to give sweet treats to little ones in the form of Easter baskets and egg hunts), without so many movies, decorations, or toys. 

While the kids enjoy its more whimsical traditions, and candy companies in the United States still make a sizable dime, Easter is a smaller holiday within popular culture. Yet, it is the most important celebration in all of Christianity. This brings the focus away from that of a commercialized holiday, and to one that is centered on togetherness and sacredness. It is a dually solemn and joyous celebration of faith, as we remember both the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Easter is a celebration of Jesus’ victory over sin and death. Easter is celebrated by Christians as a joyous holiday because it represents the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament and the revelation of God’s salvific plan for all of humankind. In commemorating the Resurrection of Jesus, Easter also celebrates the defeat of death and the hope of salvation.

Belief in the bodily — literal, not metaphorical — resurrection of Jesus Christ is the bedrock on which every other Christian belief rests. It’s how we know that Jesus was not merely a preacher, or a good teacher, but actually the Son of God. He was pierced for our transgressions, and he rose from the grave three days later.

For Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, many mainline Protestants, as well as other, smaller liturgical groups; the preparation for Easter begins 40 days in advance (albeit on a different date for Orthodox church goers) with Ash Wednesday. The Lenten season is one of fasting and penance in preparation for Resurrection Sunday. 

Even those who do not observe the Lenten fasts often attend special services throughout the Lenten season to commemorate dates of religious significance, like Palm Sunday and Good Friday. But, the common thread for Christians everywhere, is that Easter Sunday means church attendance. Regardless of denomination, many churches will also be holding potlucks, as well as Easter egg hunts for the children in their congregations. 

Resurrection Sunday services in the West vary from denomination to denomination. Catholics will celebrate a special mass. Many liturgical denominations will include sacraments, such as baptisms, confirmations, and communion during Easter services. Evangelical and non-denominational churches may include less orthodox expressions of worship and praise, such as dance performances, skits, artwork, and special music to commemorate the day. Many churches conduct services with both traditional and contemporary elements. 

It is worth mentioning that while most of Western Europe, North and South America will commemorate the Resurrection this Sunday, many of our brothers and sisters in Iraq will be celebrating Orthodox Easter, which takes place a week later. Their traditions, shaped by the earliest Christians, stand firm against years of adversity. 

For many in Mosul and other areas of Northern Iraq, olive branches are distributed to farmers on Palm Sunday, who plant them on their land and pray for bountiful harvests. Women often dye eggs in red and yellow as a sign of joy and love. The eggs are dyed using traditional materials, such as onion skin and lentils. Also on this day, Christians will eat a special kind of bread called “Tkharca Daochgan,” a yellow-dyed bread made from bulgur and wheat flour. 

During the morning before church, this bread is distributed in the community, particularly among the poor and needy. After church, Christians will return home for a meat dish called “pacha.”

In some regions of Iraq, both Christians and Muslims work together to prepare sweets for the holiday. The week before Easter, they often work alongside one another to prepare desserts for the Feast of Alklejeh. Among these sweets is kleicha, an Assyrian pastry considered to be the national cookie of Iraq. 

Kleicha is a sweet, round or half-moon shaped cookie that often resembles a small cinnamon roll. Its spiral center consists of layers of sweet foods like dates and spices like cardamom, wedged between the layers of sweet dough. Other variations may be stuffed and oblong and may be topped with walnuts or sesame seeds. Kleicha can be made in a variety of ways and is as unique as the person baking it. 

 For Iraqi Christians, the Thursday before Easter is also an important observance, as many will go to church and contemplate the Last Supper. On Good Friday, many Iraqi Christians will attend mass and services to reflect on the crucifixion of Christ. Many may also attend passion plays, reenactments of the crucifixion, which are popular with Christians around the world during Holy Week. On Sunday morning, Iraqi Christians, some on the 17th and others on the 24th, will gather to celebrate Christ’s resurrection with all Christians around the world with messages, sacraments, and songs. 

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Regardless of orthodoxy or expression, all of Christendom will be celebrating Christ’s resurrection as a victory. We look forward to seeing the wonderful Easter traditions that will be part of our Easter celebrations at the Olive Tree Center among our refugees in Madaba, Jordan. American FRRME supports all efforts to create a better future for Christians in Iraq and the Middle East. As we learn more about the traditions of Christians in Iraq and across the globe, it is our sincere wish that Christians find unity in our celebration of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ this Easter. Happy Easter from American FRRME!

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