Tajikistan has banned Christmas trees and gift-giving in schools this year.
The education ministry has issued a decree banning “the use of fireworks, festive meals, gift-giving and raising money” for New Year celebrations as well as “the installation of a Christmas tree either living (felled wood) or artificial” in schools and universities.
The restrictions are the strongest yet imposed in the mainly-Muslim former Soviet republic in Central Asia since the collapse of the USSR in 1991 although the country has been toning down the festivities for some time.
Last year, for instance, it banned Russia’s version of Father Christmas.
The republic is agreeing to a tree in a square in its capital, Dushanbe, ahead of New Year but it is not expected to be there long – unlike other ex-Soviet states who continue to celebrate the festivities in their main squares.
The secular republic is divided over its views on the benefits of Soviet (non religious) versus Russian (Orthodox Christian) influences.
The arguments have led to violence on some occasions with a man dressed in the red robes of Santa, or his Russian equivalent Father Frost, being stabbed to death on New Year’s Eve in 2011 in Dushanbe.
The police said the unknown assailants were drunk but the family of the man who died said the attack had religious motives – only days before the country’s leading cleric had urged Muslims not to take part in the holiday.
Other holidays seen as alien to Tajikistan’s culture have also come under pressure in recent years.
Fancy dress zombies and vampires were reportedly detained by police in 2013 and 2014, following the government’s opposition to Halloween celebrations.
There are also strict rules for birthdays, weddings and funerals with one man this year being fined around $600 (£400) for holding his birthday party in an Irish-themed pub in Dushanbe.