I combattenti cristiani in Siria (La Presse)

How are Syrians Gearing up for Christmas After 10 Years of War?

Preparations for this year’s Christmas are underway in many Syrian cities especially in the capital Damascus and the country’s second largest city and economic capital Aleppo.

Despite ten years of war and an ongoing spike in the Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed the lives of dozens of the nation’s doctors among over 900 fatalities so far, the Christmas spirit is alive and well. Christians are a major native component of Syria’s authentic social fabric and are important guardians of Syria’s national identity as well as the Arabic language and literature alike.

Christmas in Syria

Many streets of mainly Christian-populated quarters have already displayed their colorful house decorations, and sparkling Christmas trees can be seen in major squares, churches as well as the majority of hotels across Syrian cities, towns and villages.

Christmas rituals across a land widely considered to be the cradle of Christianity, are not that different from those across much of world. Eastern Christians fast by avoiding meat, dairy products, fish and eggs.

A good chunk of Syrians attend religious services on Christmas Eve and Church bells ring out sending messages of hope and peace as many none Christian Syrian join the festivities and prayers for salvation in the war-fatigued nation. Christmas Day is celebrated with family members and friendly gatherings, exchanging visits and a festive dinner featuring the country’s delicious cuisine.

Christians Have Been Targeted in Syria’s War

Syrian Christians have been systematically targeted by radical Islamists over the first few years of the conflict, particularly in the northeastern parts of the country where a systematic ethnic cleansing campaign has taken place. Christians made up some 10 percent of Syria’s population of 23 million before the war and the displacement and migration of millions mainly to neighboring countries and in lesser numbers to Europe and Scandinavia. Most are Eastern Orthodox Christians whose traditions of worship were developed in the Middle East, north Africa and eastern Europe.

Syria also boasts a vast array of denominations of the Church including the Syrian, Greek, Armenian Orthodox, Maronite (originated in Brad near Aleppo), the Assyrian (or Nestorian) Church and the Melchite (or Greek Catholic) Church. Many churches and monasteries, including one of the holiest and oldest in the world such as the Covent of Our Lady in Sednaya near Damascus were destroyed, plundered and severely damaged by Islamist jihadists and terrorist groups during the first five years of the war in Syria, before they were liberated by the Syrian army, and largely restored later on by the government and generous donations from Syrian Christian expats worldwide.

Syria’s Christians Have Deeply-Rooted Traditions

The majority of Eastern Christians fast for some or all of the Advent, a period of spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas time, which has been traditionally jointly celebrated by a large number of none Christian Syrians every year. It is extremely common here to see decorated Christmas trees at Christian homes and enterprises. Thankfully, the conflict spanning over 10 bloody and desperate years has failed to seriously undermine the stubborn fabric of coexistence and its deeply-rooted traditions which have survived for centuries. Muslim, Christians and in some cases Syrian Jews have lived peacefully as neighbors for ages especially in certain quarters of the capital Damascus and Aleppo and majority Christian Tartous, Homs and Hama’s surrounding rural areas.

Christmas celebrations in Syria were largely interrupted by the violence of the conflict which erupted in March 2011, as part of the so-called “Arab Spring ” which has brought nothing but bloodshed, destruction and chaos to many nations in the region.

Three years ago, with the demise of ISIS terrorist organization and the subsequent liberation of much of the parts  previously held by antigovernment and foreign-sponsored militias and terror groups, Syrian Christians were able to partake in Christmas celebrations again, with heartwarming singing carols and hymns returning to the churches and festivals in Damascus and much of the country, free of the fear of terror attacks that have cost Syrians of all faiths dearly.

Lights of Faith Defy Darkness of War

With Christmas trees lit up, musical bands playing in the streets of Damascus’ old town as well as many cathedrals and churches across the country, and with Santa Claus (Father Christmas) stacking up gifts and polishing up his carriage for the yearning children, Syrians hope that this year’s Christmas celebrations will help them overcome much of the agony, suffering and sadness accumulated in 10 years of war and aggravated by a mounting COVID-19 death toll in recent weeks.

Syria is the Cradle of Christianity and only place on earth where Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ is still spoken and being taught by Christians and Muslims alike. Our nation prays that the birth anniversary of the birth of the Prince of Peace will bring with it a year of tranquility, prosperity and above all the peace this nation badly needs more than ever.