St Nicholas bringing gifts for kids, in Syria.
December is a Christmas season the world over. Syria, the subject of all of those refugees, many who have lost children in the current war there, has many Christians who celebrate Christmas. Christians in Syria follow their Christmas traditions conscientiously. For them, the smallest camel who carried the 'Three Wise Kings', is believed to bring gifts for little children in Syria. The children leave shoes filled with hay on their doorsteps to feed the camels. When the camels eat the hay, the children search their shoes for gifts. It is similar to the "Christmas stockings" on many American hearths. For the families of Syria, the concept of a place like the United States, where they might celebrate Christmas without having to lock their doors, for fear of warriors of ISIS, is a hope and a dream. Many who have dared follow that dream, have found their boats capsized, or cold winters in makeshift tents while Christians in Europe and other nations fight cultural battles as to whether to allow them in. I am reminded of Ghandi, who said: "I would be a Christian, if it were not for how Christians act."
On Christmas Eve, Syrian Christian families lock the gates of their homes, to serve as a reminder of their persecutions during the old times, when Christianity was forbidden. The families get together on the Eve of Christmas and perform Christmas rituals as per Syrian traditions. They think of St. Nicholas, not Santa Clause. But the kids think even more of the camel.
1. On this day, the youngest child in the family recites the Gospel story of the Nativity aloud, after which,
2. a family member is expected to light a bonfire in the courtyard. (More light, it means).
3. The family members then gather around the bonfire with candles in their hands.
4. The Syrian Christians observe the manner in which the flames of the bonfire spread through the wood. They observe this, in order to determine whether they would be blessed in the coming year or otherwise.
5. Psalms are recited till the fire lasts and once the fires have seared out,
6. Syrian Christians leap over the hot charcoal embers and make their wishes. (we might call these wishes, their Christmas prayers)
On Christmas Day, Syrian Christians go to Church, and chant hymns and prayers. The priest or minister would carry a figure of Jesus Christ in his hand and walk around the church, while the Syrians recite the hymns. After the prayers, they perform the 'touch of peace', wherein the preacher or priest touches a person's hand and the touch is passed from one person to another in the church. This ensures the blessings are passed on.
The Christmas dinner is the next, chief event for the Syrians. The people prepare delicious chicken, lamb and dessert dishes. Some of their famous Christmas dishes include 'Baba Ghannouj', 'Hummus', 'Baklava' and 'Mezze platters'.
About 10 per cent of the entire Nation of Syria is made up of Eastern Christians, who celebrate Christmas. Many of them observe fasts, which is actually a spiritual preparation before Christmas. Their fasts include avoiding foods that contain dairy products, meat, eggs and fish.
The Christmas Camel
Legend states that, the youngest camel carrying the 'Three Kings' or 'Magi', who followed the star to search for Baby Jesus, was drained by the long journey and fell down. Jesus Christ is said to have blessed the camel with immortal life. The Syrians believe that the camel bring gifts to the children on New Year's Eve, every year. The children in Syria leave shoes outside their houses on the Eve of Christmas, along with hay and some water to feed the camel. The next morning, these children would eagerly search for their gifts in the shoes. People in Syria, religiously observe Christmas every year. 'Milad Majid' meaning 'Merry Christmas' is wished in Arabic to the people of Syria. During the Christmas season, the people embark on a shopping spree with their families as a part of age-old tradition. Women are expected to shop for sweets and the men accompany the women for shopping. Shopping is considered a major activity during the Christmas festivities.
If you are Christian, pray for your brothers and sisters in Syria. They are living in a land racked by wars carried on by at least 6 different political and religious groups. Untold thousands have lost their children, husbands, wives, grandparents to war there. They only long for peace so that their kids might hope for return of the camel.