How do Christians in al-Hasakah celebrate the holidays?

A church in al-Hasakah during Christian celebrations - December 2023 (Enab Baladi/Rita Ahmad)

A church in al-Hasakah during Christian celebrations - December 2023 (Enab Baladi/Rita Ahmad)

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Despite the 12 years that have passed since the military battles experienced by Syrians in different areas of control and the challenges they have faced, they still invest in rare moments of joy in their lives.

During times of celebrations, special occasions, and social gatherings, such as Christmas, Syrians find an opportunity to regain some joy amidst the political and economic crisis in Syria.

The month of December holds a special place in the hearts of the inhabitants of al-Hasakah governorate, as the city is considered a miniature model of the diversity and coexistence of cultures and races in Syria.

This month reflects the spirit of solidarity and peaceful coexistence among all the population groups in the area, and the residents seek to regain moments of joy that are part of their identity and were on the verge of being lost in the atmosphere of their city.

Tarek Butros, 40, told Enab Baladi that preparations for Christmas celebrations start some time before, with the participation of all Christian denominations. This includes going to the markets to buy clothes, nuts, and fruits. They also prepare special dishes, such as the famous roast turkey that is associated with the holiday tradition.

Christmas and New Year’s Eve are marked by a great turnout in the markets of al-Hasakah and Qamishli cities.

December of each year witnesses the celebrations of the Barbara holiday and the birth of Jesus Christ, followed by the celebration of the New Year.

A church in al-Hasakah during Christian celebrations - December 2023 (Enab Baladi/Rita Ahmad)

A church in al-Hasakah during Christian celebrations – December 2023 (Enab Baladi/Rita Ahmad)

Military operations “kill festive joy”

The security conditions in the rural areas belonging to the city of al-Hasakah have had their impact on the celebrations, especially after the displacement of many Christians from the region.

In areas like Tel Tamr, celebrations almost disappear due to the digging of tunnels, military fortifications, and the closure of commercial markets, in addition to restrictions on movement and the closure of roads out of fear of military battles or mutual shelling between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who control the area, and the Turkish army.

Butros pointed out the differences in preparations in al-Hasakah province according to each city. In the border city of Ras al-Ain, the celebrations are modest due to the residents’ concerns about the armed factions that control the area.

On the other hand, the city of Qamishli witnessed significant activity in its markets, and its residents decorated the streets and put up a Christmas tree as part of their celebrations.

Turkey carried out a military operation in October 2019 under the name “Operation Peace Spring” and took control of areas in northeastern Syria.

Among these areas are the cities of Ras al-Ain and Tel Abyad, where Turkish forces entered in October 2019 along with Syrian opposition military factions.

Butros mentioned that the countryside of al-Hasakah, especially from the city of Tel Tamr to the province of al-Hasakah and the villages along this route, is witnessing less enthusiasm for celebrating compared to previous years.

This is due to the tense situation related to a possible Turkish military operation, so caution increases and preparations decrease due to the security measures imposed by the SDF in areas such as Darbasiyah, Malikiyah, and other cities on the Syrian-Turkish border.

Sarah Khairi, a 38-year-old Christian woman from the Syriac community who resides in the city of Qamishli, spoke to Enab Baladi about her family’s celebration this year. She said, “This celebration will be more traditional and simple due to the high prices and difficult living conditions.”

A Christmas tree decorated by one of the ladies of al-Hasakah city - December 2023 (Enab Baladi/Rita Ahmad)

A Christmas tree decorated by one of the ladies of al-Hasakah city – December 2023 (Enab Baladi/Rita Ahmad)

Khairi plans to arrange her Christmas tree, which she has owned for two years, and decorate it in a simple way. The celebration will include visiting relatives and performing religious hymns and chants in the church. After that, she will visit her mother in the Assyrian village in the countryside of Tel Tamr.

Khairi pointed out the significant increase in prices, with the price of meat reaching 120,000 Syrian pounds, and the usual holiday sweets have also become expensive, with the price of chocolates ranging from 70,000 for regular types to 100,000 for luxury ones.

These difficult circumstances have affected the residents’ celebrations, and they now need to reduce costs and celebrate in a simple and family-oriented manner.

According to a survey conducted by Enab Baladi’s correspondent in the area, the prices of Christmas trees start at $100 for a tree with a length of 60 centimeters.

The prices of decorative garlands start at $15 and increase according to the desired length.

The exchange rate of the US dollar in Syria is 14,400 Syrian pounds, according to the S-P Today website, which specializes in currency exchange rates.

 

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