Kiwi soldiers celebrate Christmas in Iraq

  • 25/12/2015

By Paul Purcell

Christmas is a bit different in Iraq.

As New Zealanders gather on Christmas morning to herald the arrival of Santa, the 105 Kiwi troops at the Taji Military Complex will celebrate without the luxuries - family, friends or a real tree.

Instead, they'll have to make do with Australians, near-beer and each other.

The second rotation of New Zealand soldiers left for Iraq in early November, following on from the first deployment of non-combat military personnel tasked with training around 2100 local troops to fight ISIS.

But it's not all serious business according to Kiwi soldier Henry, whose name is a pseudonym to protect his identity, who told New Zealand Newswire how troops will be gearing up for Christmas in a country that doesn't celebrate it.

"We have a little get-together where everyone brings an item or two to celebrate pre-Christmas as best we can with near-beer," he said.

Near-beer, beer with no alcohol, is a military staple in line with the customs of a dry, Muslim country.

Soldiers will be able to Skype home on Christmas morning before grabbing sports gear to indulge in a bit of trans-Tasman rivalry with their Australian counterparts also stationed at the base.

Henry, who is away from his girlfriend and family for the first time on deployment, said while it's a bit of a change, the people he's working with have made it easier to get by.

"It's common across the board, we're all very family-orientated and we always made the effort to go home on the holidays, for Christmas particularly.

"It's going to be a big change no doubt."

While Christmas Day will be spent more than 15,000 kilometres from their loved ones, doesn't mean they won't be forgotten when it comes to gift giving.

On base, there are shops to buy anything from TVs to couches and chairs, even traditional Iraqi shisha smoking pipes, but for many troops, Christmas preparations started long before they left New Zealand.

"You can buy pretty much anything you can think of," Henry said.

"A lot of people have either organised presents if they're onto it before they left their countries or as I have done, just bought some presents online."