Reporters on the Job

Christmas Trees in Iraq: Iraq has a small but historically prominent Christian community. But staff writer Howard LaFranchi was surprised that a florist shop not far from the Monitor's Baghdad bureau was featuring a line of big artificial Christmas trees all decorated and twinkling for the season.

"I'd been seeing this same shop day after day as we'd drive back from assignments in Sadr City and elsewhere, and finally one day I yelled, 'Stop the car, I want to go in there' to our driver and interpreter," he says. Inside the shop he found a half-dozen decorated trees, baskets of tree ornaments, and yards of garland.

He also found Youssef Mohammed Zowet, the shop's owner, happy to talk about Christmas in Baghdad. "Of course it's mostly for the Christians, but even some Muslims are starting to buy my trees," Mr. Zowet told Howard. "It's getting to be that Muslims will have a tree for New Year's."

Zowet said his season had been slow so far, but he hoped that after the Dec. 15 elections Iraqis would forget politics.

He was proud of a new product this year: poinsettia plants imported from Holland. The small plants sell for about $10, not a negligible amount for many Iraqis. But Zowet said he expected them to sell well. "I told him that I had learned during my years as a correspondent in Mexico that poinsettias were developed by an American diplomat (Joel Poinsett) who had brought home cuttings from Mexico.

Zowet is Muslim, but said that he has no problem responding to the traditions and customs of every faith. "We are Muslims, but we respect all the religions and want all the people to be able to follow their beliefs," he said. "The brief stop at the florist shop turned out to be a lesson in interdenominational sharing and respect," says Howard.

David Clark Scott
World editor

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