Iraqi Christians prepare for first Christmas back home in Qaraqosh

Christian families in Iraq are preparing to spend their first Christmas at home after returning to their homes following ISIS' retreat.

An estimated 20,000 people are returned to Qaraqosh, northern Iraq, which was home to around 50,000 Christians before the invasion. For dozens of families this will be the first Christmas back in their home town and the Kurdish government has declared a national holiday for the Kurdish regions of Iraq.

FacebookA cross consecrated in the ISIS-devastated town of Qaraqosh.

'We waited for three years,' said Merna, a local Christian woman, according to persecution charity Open Doors. 'This year Christmas will be very different because we have returned to our town Baghdeda [the local name for Qaraqosh]. Being able to go to church and seeing that there are people who are celebrating Christmas is something great.'

The local Christians will prepare with an intense cleaning of their houses before decorating and enjoying a meal together on Christmas Day and singing Iraqi Christmas songs as well as translations of Western classics such as Jingle Bells and Silent Night.

'We put the Christmas tree in the house and hang decorations on the walls. We prepare the Christmas tree together, my brother and sisters and I,' said Merma.

Shlema [not her real name], the director of an Open Doors partner organisation in Iraq, said: 'All Christians have their houses decorated. Even during their displacement they would put decorations in their caravans.

'We have special food. Most traditional is "pacha". We cook the head, legs, tongue and other leftovers of a cow or sheep and we put that together with rice in a stomach that we've cleaned. We will eat this at Christmas. I think about 80 per cent of the Christians will eat that.'