01/11/2019, 12.05
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Damascus, the Christmas of Christian and Muslim children: a gift, beyond the wounds of war

by Sandra Awad*

A celebration of lights and shadows, between decorated streets, illuminated Christmas trees and neighborhoods still in the dark due to lack of electricity. A parade with songs and dances, to bring back a happiness forgotten because of the conflict. When the desire for redemption overcomes wounds caused by the conflict. AsiaNews shares Caritas Syria’s Christmas story.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - A Christmas of lights and shadows, caught between the desire to leave behind the violence of the past and the still open wounds of a conflict that - he hope of everyone, Christians and Muslims - seems to be coming to a conclusion. The contradictions of capital illuminated in celebration and neighborhoods without electricity. The joy of children (Muslims), who bear the wounds of war on their skin, for an unexpected toy source of hope for a future of peace and unity. Christmas in Damascus shared with AsiaNews by Sandra Awad, married mother of two children and communication manager for Caritas Syria.

The days of Christmas were passing by this year, and I was experiencing a state of hysteria and a terrible contradiction of emotions that never seemed to have an end.

I took the kids for a drive in my car to see the  Christmas decorations, and I found myself looking at the shining lights on the streets and the balconies… I choked up… I can't help remembering my husband's sad's voice while telling me about the lack of electricity at his lab in Sahnaya, since this area and others in the countryside of Damascus are barely receiving electricity during a few hours in the day. 

I said to myself: "What's wrong with you, girl?! Enjoy the magic of Christmas! And let your kids enjoy the lights. Be grateful for everything!"

A few minutes after, I passed by a tree which I heard that it coasted around a million Syrian pounds, or two, or three… I'm not quite sure… and I found myself choking again.

There are children who are going to destroyed schools, people who are living in houses with no doors or windows, no water or electricity because they cannot pay 15000 SP to rent an unfinished room in Jaramana, so I found myself choking. Suddenly I heard my son gasping with joy as soon as we reached the big Christmas tree, so I silenced my thoughts and said to myself: "What's wrong with you, girl? Stop thinking about tragedies! Concentrate on joy; your own joy and your children's."

A few minutes later, a carnival that was organized by the church scouts passed next to us, those kids and young people walking on the roads in spite of the extreme cold, wearing special uniforms, carrying flags and singing Christmas carols on the streets. I asked myself: "Does anyone of those kids understand that this is Jesus Christ's birthday, and it is not a carnival?"

Before the war, I used to be angry with myself and the people around me when we used to concentrate on the outer layers of Christmas; what would we eat? What would we wear? Where would we spend the night out? What gifts would we bring? And we used to forget that Christmas is the birth of Christ. Afterwards, war came, and I hope that it is over now. Haven't we learned anything from it? Are we back to our old superficial way of living? I feel that war took decoration, outer appearances from us and the ability to overspend on Christmas, and made us concentrate, even for a little while, more on the depth of things, because we needed that depth in order to tolerate the pain and carry on with the journey, but, after this war, I hope that people have learned something about the real meaning of Christmas. After we visited some relatives two days ago, I found myself troubled again when the old lady said something to me that made me see things from a different perspective: "Did you see the carnival yesterday? It was breathtaking! They brought joy back to us. We have tasted enough bitterness during the past years". I remained silent. Here are the people happy and enjoying themselves, why am I making a big deal out of it? People do need to get out of the mood of war, and the country needs to feel recovered as well.

In the midst of all these contradictions that I am experiencing nowadays, my colleague in Caritas and I decided to visit some of the families in need in the neighborhoods of Kashkool and Jaramana in order to offer them help before Christmas, so we took some stuff and toys and headed out, and every time I left some family's house, I used to experience a strange and funny feeling. I was feeling as if I was decorating a tree. I would put a golden ball here, and a star over there. And the feeling continued until we reached the last family's house. We brought them a boys' toy (Meccano) since we already knew that they had three little boys, and a special girl's toy for their two-year-old daughter. When we arrived at their place, we knew that the Meccano we brought for the boys were a bad choice since two of the three boys were burnt and extremely disfigured. Even one of them lost his fingers due to burns, so he would definitely not be able to play with the game we brought them. In spite of all this, you should have seen those kids' eyes as soon as they saw the gifts, I swear, with everything dear to my heart, that they looked prettier than all Christmas lights and decorations in Damascus. We knew later on from their mom that they had never received any toys ever, so my friend and I decided to bring them more suitable toys next time. And indeed, on the next day, we took a ball and a special slide board and went back to them, and since it was Christmas eve, we did not have sufficient time to visit them again, so we asked the mother to meet us at the beginning of the street to take the toys from us. Suddenly we found her coming with all her kids to show us their big surprise; one of the disfigured kids took out a car which was made of the Meccano we brought them the day before. They had brought it to show us their great achievement while their eyes were glittering with happiness… true and deep happiness… perhaps those little shining eyes have lit the tree that was inside of me, only then, I felt calm, and the hysteria which I was experiencing had faded away, and I discovered something important… truly important through my work in Caritas this year:

When we help others, little Jesus will be born inside of us and will emerge from inside our hearts…


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