Christmas is about keeping hope alive, says Bethlehem mayor

Christmas is about keeping hope alive, says Bethlehem mayor

DAMASCUS: Damascus on Saturday night lit up its tallest Christmas tree in Abbasid Square amid joyous celebrations.

A Christmas scout band paraded through a number of the capital’s neighborhoods, ending in the square, which was repeatedly shelled by Daesh before the Syrian Army seized the terrorist group’s last stronghold in southern Damascus. 

The band played Christmas music, and the accompanying parade gave presents to children and passersby. 

Thousands of people from across Damascus gathered in Abbasid Square to watch the 30-meter-tall Christmas tree being lit up.

“My daughter was born in 2010 and has never seen Christmas in Damascus before,” Rita Shalhoub, who came with her family from the Jaramana district to witness the event, told Arab News. 

“We continued to celebrate the occasion at home during the past seven years, but our celebrations were overshadowed by the pain of war and the fear of death, in addition to long, depressing power outages,” she added.

“Daesh made sure they shelled Damascus during holidays, and joy was often stolen by the horror and deaths of civilians. The streets would be empty by the end of December as most of us feared leaving our homes during the holidays.”

In early December, streets, squares, shops and homes in the cities of Homs, Aleppo, Damascus, Latakia, Tartus and Hama were decorated with Christmas lights and ornaments in preparation for Syria’s first safe holiday season since 2011. 

Both Christians and Muslims look forward to celebrating the occasion, and many Muslim families decorated trees in their homes, prompting jokes on social media about Christians taking photos next to Muslims’ Christmas trees. 

“Our Muslim neighbors set up better decorations than we did,” said Meray, a Christian school teacher who lives in Al-Muhajirin district in Damascus. 

Electricity supply has improved so unlike previous years, people can now enjoy Christmas lights, she added.

Abu Ahmed, an electrical engineer whose son was killed three years ago in a mortar attack on Abbasid Square, said he did not think he would ever see open-air Christmas celebrations in any part of Damascus, let alone in this square, which was once one of the most dangerous parts of the city. 

Reem Youssef, a Damascus-based architect, said: “What makes this year special is the safety we’re enjoying in Damascus, especially in the neighborhoods known for their Christmas celebrations and decorations before the war. This year’s celebrations remind me of Christmas before the war.” 

She added: “Like Christians, Muslims in Syria anticipate this occasion and its atmosphere, and head to markets in December to shop in preparation to attend Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties in restaurants across the city.” 

She said: “I believe this atmosphere reflects the safety and security that has begun to gradually return to Syria. We hope the country will soon return to its state before the war.”

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