According to my mother, the Christmas traditions Assyrians practiced in Baghdad less than a century ago were both similar and different than the traditions Assyrians have in Chicago.
Making sure the house was as clean as possible was essential in an Assyrian household. To prepare for Christmas, young girls would go house-to-house to make Assyrian cookies, known as kelecheh, for their neighbors and relatives. It was not Christmas unless kelecheh were made. Baking kelecheh had a process of its own. Since stoves only had burners and no ovens, the women would place the kelecheh in a giant tray after they were molded, and walk them over to the local bakery with the help of brothers and fathers to be baked. The women would sometimes balance the trays of kelecheh on their heads as they made the trip. At the bakery they would either wait for the baker to cook the kelecheh, or they would be told to come back to pick them up in 30 minutes. After the kelecheh were baked, they would be brought back home to cool off.
Parents did not buy presents for their children, as that custom was not common. Instead, children received a new outfit. For some, parents would give their children money, which was spent on chocolate, ice cream and other sweets.
On Christmas Eve, families would walk to the nearby church for midnight mass. The kelecheh were brought to the church to be enjoyed after mass, along with tea. The socializing would continue after church as family members and neighbors would stay up late talking and eating.
On Christmas Day, families would eat breakfast together. They spent the day visiting relatives, wishing them a Merry Christmas. Each household visited would be given a gift, usually a box of chocolate or liquor. Since there was school the next day, children would request a day off to continue visiting relatives.
Christmas in Baghdad centered on the appreciation of one’s family, along with never forgetting the reason for the holiday: the birth of Christ.