After years of war, violence and terror, the fighting in Syria seems to be decreasing. Even though the situation is still complex and dangerous for many, there is cause for hope this Christmas. We caught up with different Syrian Christians to see how Christmas was being rekindled by the surviving Christian community.
The entrance to a church in Aleppo
Last year, my husband and I were passing a well-known roundabout in Qassaa, Damascus, a Christian area that was the closest area to fighting between government forces and militants. Before the war, all of the balconies would be lit up in Christmas lights. As we drove round, all we could now see were darkened buildings with no activity – even the park was quiet. People were afraid of having their buildings spotted and targeted at night. As if that were not enough, a lack of electricity, proper heating, and water were not readily available in much of the country two years ago.
However, the dust began to settle down during the past year, and even northern Aleppo’s annual lighting of their Christmas tree was resumed by the scouts in 2017. This year, the same will be done in both Aleppo and in Syria’s Mediterranean coastal city Latakia too.
Father Elias Zahlawi
A children’s choir sing at an advent celebration in Aleppo
In Damascus, the “Choir of Joy”, established in 1977, is expected to sing their annual concert. Syriac Catholic priest Father Elias Zahlawi began the choir with the intention of gathering the young, and creating a musical culture of peace and harmony. He believes that the choir will always be a reminder to the West that “We’re here. We exist.”. Even when rehearsals had to be cancelled due to shelling, this tough voluntary choir hasn’t let the city down at Christmas, and this year, donations will be gathered to distribute money to poor families.
A Christmas children’s club for children in Aleppo
Pastor Edward runs a church in Damascus. He and his team use the festive period to bring the message of Christmas to those suffering and in pain. Because of the war, many have lost family members, earn poor wages and have health issues. His church are helping provide food and relief for many families each month. And whilst everyone in Syria knows about suffering, it’s important for the church to keep remembering those who are worse off, especially at Christmas:
“When Christ was born it wasn’t Christmas celebrations all over. When He was born it was dark and it was hostility all around. There were broken hearts and pain everywhere; that is what justifies His work. This is why He came. Because this is our situation. So we really like to shed light on how the message of Christmas can be the answer to our pain and the hostilities that are going on around us”.
The people as a whole in Syria are strong though, and they seem to know how to make the most of their situation. Change is coming. People can look out and see the hope that the shepherds and wise men saw in the darkness. At least, the lights are now flickering on the streets.
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.