As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Christmas, many are forced to do so in secret. Arrest and punishment at the hands of the government or violence at the hands of extremist groups plague many around the world who simply try to celebrate the birth of their Savior.
In Iran, the government takes advantage of Christmas celebrations in their effort to crackdown on the spread of Christianity. Dabrina Tamraz has been a victim of religious persecution herself in Iran. She is reporting that authorities began to arrest Christians in the last few weeks. She says, “Christmas celebrations make it easier for Iranian authorities to arrest a group of Christians at one time.”
The Iranian government’s main targets are converts to Christianity from a Muslim background and evangelicals. The regime feels threated by Christians who would evangelize and share their faith. Christians who stay home might avoid being targeted by authorities, but any expressions of faith—including Christmas celebrations—can be dangerous.
Christians in India are also bracing themselves amid a new wave of persecution this December. According to International Christian Concern, at least 10 Christians were arrested on trumped-up criminal charges, clean drinking water was cut off for 25 Christian families, and several churches have been shut down just this month.
“We have cancelled all our Christmas events in Banni Mardatti village, including carols, cottage meetings, and pre-Christmas events,” said Pastor Raja Bhovi from in India’s Karnataka State, “There is a fear of being attacked by Hindu radicals.”
If last year is any indicator, these fears may be justified. Just before Christmas in 2018, a mob attacked a small church in India’s Maharashtra state, leaving many injured.
Some countries go so far as to openly ban the celebration of Christmas. In Brunei, a small country on the island of Borneo, Christians found celebrating Christmas illegally could face a 5-year prison sentence, a $20,000 fine, or both.
Brunei instituted this policy in 2015, while its Ministry of Religious Affairs released a statement expressing concern that any public Christmas celebrations might “damage the aqidah (beliefs) of the Muslim community.”
In North Korea, those who celebrate Christmas can be imprisoned, tortured or put to death. North Korea is a communist country where the only gods allowed are the Kim family dictators. Christmas is not widely known, and certainly not celebrated publicly. Yet, the North Korean regime has seemingly tried to replace Christmas altogether.
North Koreans are encouraged to celebrate the birthday of Kim Jong-Suk, the deceased grandmother of Kim Jong Un. Her birthday, which falls on Christmas Eve, is even marked by pilgrimages to the town of her birth. The empty substitute religion centered on the Kim family ultimately won’t satisfy the human soul. Open Doors USA estimates that there are approximately 300,000 Christians in North Korea—quite an accomplishment for the most closed country in the world.
In countries across the world, any expression of the Christian faith leaves Christians vulnerable to arrest from the government or even attacks from their neighbors. Christians are often forced to either cancel their celebrations or gather in secret. Yet, the price for getting caught at such clandestine events can be costly.
As Christians in the West openly celebrate the Christmas season with friends and family, we should pause and pray for the Christians who will celebrate in secret. We can be thankful that Christ was born over 2,000 years ago to bring us the Gospel. And that hope is a light that no force of darkness can extinguish.