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War-weary Syrians Try to Find Peace in Holiday Season

  • Hediye Levent

A man dressed as Santa Claus distributes gifts to children during a Christmas parade in Damascus, Syria, on Dec. 27, 2015.

A man dressed as Santa Claus distributes gifts to children during a Christmas parade in Damascus, Syria, on Dec. 27, 2015.

As the Syrian civil war rages on, Syrians are nonetheless trying to find ways to celebrate the holidays with joy and hope.

In the past, people mostly had personal wishes and resolutions for the New Year. Now things have changed.

"My only wish for the new year is stability in Syria," said one young Christian woman, while watching a holiday parade in the streets of the upscale neighborhood of Bab Tuma in Damascus, the capital of war-torn Syria. "We miss the old Syria, where we celebrated our holidays without fear."

Since the eruption of civil war in 2011, Christmas and New Year celebrations have been quiet — mainly limited to masses and small parades.

The Army of Islam, whose leader Zahran Alloush was reportedly killed by a Russian airstrike Dec. 25, 2015, is only six kilometers away from the Christian district where holiday celebrations are taking place nightly. The Islamist rebel group has occasionally fired mortars into this government-held area.

This year, the celebrations for Christmas were held on the streets with the music blaring, though the festivities are modest compared to pre-war years.

Still, shop windows and apartment balconies are decorated with Christmas and New Year's ornaments, and restaurants and cafés are advertising special programs for New Year's Eve celebrations.

For the small street parades that take place every night in different neighborhoods of Damascus, security precautions are being taken. The streets are closed to traffic, and bags are searched at control points before letting people into the parade area.

Holiday celebrations are also happening in Homs, Latakia and Qamishi. And they are likely to continue after New Year's Day as followers of Eastern Orthodox churches are waiting for their Christmas on January 7.

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