‘Here you have the freedom to abandon  religion.’

There is a small artificial Christmas tree with very small Christmas balls on a stool next to the sofa. There are a few candles under the tree. It will not be more this year. ,,I wanted to remove my desk and put a Christmas tree from Ikea, but my girlfriend did not think that was a good idea, because the desk is screwed to the wall. Too much hassle.” For Anwar Manla Sadoon (27) from Arnheim is the third Christmas in the Netherlands. The first time he was just a few months in the Netherlands. Fled from the war in Syria. He lived in refugee shelter “The Dome” (De Koepel) in Arnheim, where a large Christmas tree stood in the hall. “People came to make music, but everyone looked like that”, says Anwar, pulling a bored face. Since last year he has been celebrating Christmas with his Dutch girlfriend in Limbourg, with her family. Setting up the Christmas tree, buying presents for each other, putting on nice clothes, good food, the rituals are known to him. ,,People in the Netherlands have been talking about the holidays and the holidays for weeks. It does not stop.” With a sense of drama, typical Anwar: ,,I sometimes get a headache!” Then seriously: ,,I now feel the pain of Christians in Syria, because we Muslims did the same thing around Ramadan and the Sugar Festival”. As he is now a Muslim minority in the Netherlands, Christians are in Syria.

Painful feeling 

Christmas reminds him of the Islamic holidays he celebrated in Syria. ,,That is why Christmas gives a painful feeling. Most refugees do not have people to look for, but at this time they remember how it was in the past when they celebrated with family and friends.” The harsh reality is imminent: he is alone here. Father, mother and brother are in Syria. ,,My mother would find it a fun party. She loves these things; the decorated houses, the delicious food. Now that it is war, she misses this kind of fun”. Anwar would like to have her with her. He always calls her between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Does he tell her how things are going. “Where is the snow?” His mother asked last year. “She expected that because it always snows in movies at Christmas.” Christmas gives the Syrian a double feeling. On the one hand the confrontation with the past and with what has disappeared, on the other hand Anwar also enjoys the pleasure that Dutch people have in the party. ,,Everybody is happy. The streets are beautiful, Christmas trees are full of lights everywhere. The city will become one big house.”


He also sees a big difference between the Islamic festivals and the Christmas party. ,,I feel that something is missing here. We eat well during Ramadan, but that’s not what it’s all about. You must also pray and go to the mosque. Here people watch a movie and share gifts, but they do not take the meaning of the party. I think that’s funny. Here you have the freedom to drop the religion.” Where else could it be, he wonders. “The church in Klarendal became a skate hall, the church in Sonsbeek has been converted into studios and you can no longer pray in the Eusebius church.”

Sugar festival

During the Islamic festivals, such as the Sugar Festival, it is also the intention that you give something away to someone else. Even if you can hardly miss it yourself. “There is always someone poorer than you.” Anwar asked his mother in Syria to give money on his behalf to give someone who needed it. He does not know anyone who is poor in the Netherlands. ,,Then the woman to whom she had given the money called me to thank me. The woman has a disabled child and she had also bought something for the child from the money. That gives me a good feeling.” It is now quieter in Syria. Terror organization IS is almost completely driven out of the country and is being rebuilt. Anwar hopes that the people in Syria can forget the pain of the war and forgive each other in the coming year. ,,I am sure that peace will come again in Syria. Not through government intervention, but because people want it themselves.”

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