In Syria, we celebrate Christmas on the 25th day of December of each year. The celebrations take many forms from spectacular Christmas trees, colourful decorations and Christmas songs blasting from almost everywhere to life-size nativity scenes in big and famous churches and squares in Damascus. Giving presents is customary but it is usually from parents to their young children. It stops once the children reach a certain age around 12-14 years. Families gather together for a family feast on Christmas Eve. Usually, they can hear the sound of enthusiastic and celebratory fireworks in the background.
‘Milad Majeed’ is how we say Merry Christmas in Syria and we call Father Christmas ‘Papa Noel’ although Santa Claus is also quite common. In fact, I only learned the name ‘Father Christmas’ after I had moved to the UK.
From 2010 onwards, the Christmas I described above was no longer a reality. Merry, joyful and heart-warming are how I used to describe Christmas except for my last Christmas in Syria. I still remember how bittersweet it felt. I knew that it was going to be my last at home so I tried to treasure the very few memoriesI had as much as I could.
The year was 2015. The war had been going on for four to five years and although I had become accustomed to the constantly tense climate and the alarmingly unsafe surroundings, it was the first Christmas my family was going to spend apart. My mother and older brother had just made it to the UK after fleeing Syria due to the war. They only managed to make it out so my father, younger brother and I had to stay behind to wait and see what happens next.
Nothing was certain. The living conditions were dire. We had no contact with my mother and brother, so they had no idea whether we were alive or not. Making it throughout each day alive was the Christmas Miracle everyone hoped for. But as we all know, miracles do not happen for everyone. The only form of Christmas celebrations left was what sounded like fireworks except that those sounds were deafening, terrorising and not at all specific to Christmas time. Frankly, they occurred most days.
On that Christmas day, we were not sure whether we would make it to 2016 alive and whether my family would reunite. We have fortunate enough to reunite in the UK a few months into 2016. Since then, we have relearnt to celebrate Christmas together. Although we can’t go home, we made a home for us here in the UK. Each year, we manage to bring back more and more of the Christmas joy we lost.