The Roman Catholic Church established Dec. 25 as Christmas in the fourth century, but Armenians kept to an older date. Armenians also maintain various traditions around the year end holidays; They usually clean their homes before Christmas, and decorate a Christmas tree with fruit, white doves and golden bows. They also typically abstain from eating meat during the week leading up to the holiday. On Christmas Eve, they feast on a traditional fish and rice dish and certain sweets.
Anooshaboor (“sweet soup”) is eaten from New Year’s until Christmas, which the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates, according to ancient Christian tradition, on January 6th every year.
As I dipped my spoon into my mother's traditional anooshaboor this morning, my thoughts went elsewhere, into the thousands of displaced Syrian Armenian refugees as Christmas looms on them.
In the last few years, over 16,000 Syrian refugees have taken refuge in Armenia and many are celebrating their first Christmas in their new - and safe - home. But according to many, their thoughts are never far from what they left behind or entangled by the unknowns that they will be facing in the new year.
The year-end holidays and now Christmas, can stir a range of conflicting emotions - and few feel it more than recently arrived refugees. Many of the refugees that the ARP has been talking to, recently said that they don't feel like "celebrating anything". Reflecting on their newly impoverished lives and war-torn Aleppo can be painful. Many seem worried about the challenges ahead.
Others Syrian refugees (and among them many Christians, including Armenians), have decided to cross the Mediterranean out of desperation and in search of a better life. Many continued to drown in the Aegean in the weeks since the world was shocked when 3 year old Aylan Kurdi's body lied face down on a Turkish beach as the world continued to turn away.
... and while others crossed across Europe in search of safety and a better life.
The plight of the Syrian refugees is really similar to many, many Armenian families that survived the Syrian deserts at the turn of the century. This crisis should inspire generosity among the transnational Armenian communities around the world as they contemplate the coming of Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas Day.
Armenia has been an exemplary host country for Syrian refugees seeking refuge. It has avoided homelessness, refugee camps and provided Syrians with various social services. Solidarity with the struggles of Syrian-Armenians runs strong in Armenia, but the government has been struggling to accommodate and integrate thousands of arrivals. It is the Armenian Diaspora's moral responsibility to continue to extend a hand to Syria's victims, as the Syrian crisis enters its 5th year. The cause will also be a test of our humanity. Furthermore, the nation will be watching how the Diaspora's various leadership groups contribute to this cause, now that the centennial commemoration of the Genocide is behind us.
There are ten million people displaced from Syria. We (Armenians) have a duty to help more than just the ones who try to cross the sea illegally. This Christmas let's do our share and give each of the 16,000 Syrian refugees in Armenia a roof over their head.
Քրիստոս Ծնաւ և Յայտնեցաւ, Ձեզի Մեզի Մեծ Աւետիս:
About The Armenian Redwood Project (ARP)
Founded in 2014, the ARP pioneered by the Ani & Narod Memorial Foundation is a non-profit social enterprise alliance that intends to raise awareness and employ business strategies aimed at significantly improving the lives and well-being of the thousands of Syrians impacted by the ravaging war in Syria and that seek refuge in Armenia. ARP's inaugural intervention in Armenia is the rental subsidy program to refugees in partnership with UNHCR & Oxfam Armenia along with a growing list of partners via the affordable housing consortium. www.armenianredwoodproject.org.