Christmas in Syria: A sombre affair
It's not that long ago that, during this time of year, the Christian neighbourhoods of Aleppo - Azizia, Sulaymaniyah, al-Midan, old & new Assyria, Sheikh Taha, al-Arman, Jdeidah and Baghdad Station - were decorated and lighted from houses, doors and trees.
That festive spirit meant most of the city's residents, regardless of sect, would visit.
Today, however, Christmas only brings memories of a past that seems beyond recapture to Christians still there.
|Christmas has become a burden in Aleppo. People want it to end quickly.|
Karoun, from Aziza, remembers fondly Christmas in the city [Ar] before 2011.
"Christmas has become a burden in Aleppo. People want it to end quickly because it reminds them of their lost homes and land," she said. Now there are no decorations in the streets, and no one has prepared for Christmas.
"Everyone is sad, and we feel ashamed to celebrate with everything the country is going through," she explained.
Karoun desperately tries to remember a happy occasion during the last few years of war.
"Churches and Christian civil associations in Aleppo have banned celebrations in mourning for the situation in the country. People only celebrate at home for their children," she added.
And the CHristian minority is rapidly dwindling. Before the war there were 500,000 Christians in Aleppo, or 12 percent of the population. Now there are only 70,000 left.
"Christmas for us is like Eid for Syrian Muslims: it brings a little joy and a lot of sadness," said Nabil Isaac, an engineer living in Aleppo. "Everyone in the city is suffering from the brutal economic situation. There is no electricity, water or gas. Even medicines are scarce," he added.
Damascus is better off than Aleppo, as it doesn't suffer the same crippling blockade. This year some families from the capital are celebrating Christmas in Lebanon, away from indiscriminate shelling, and the sound of bullets along the chiming of church bells.
Maria's family are celebrating Christmas with relatives in Byblos, north of Beirut. They decided to travel to Lebanon despite the heavy traffic and difficulties crossing the border. "Christmas is much more beautiful away from Damascus. In Lebanon you feel the true joy of Christmas," Maria said.
This year in Damascus, however, there were more Christmas decorations in Christian parts such as Qassaa Street than there had been during the past two years - power supply permitting.
Sawsan al-Sayed, who lives in the Damascus neighbourhood of Jermana, said people have decided to break the shackles of war by putting up Christmas trees after several years abstaining.
Um Sami said it only took someone to start.
"After we had the courage to put Christmas lights on the front of our house and a tree with coloured ornaments on the porch, over half the houses on the street did too," said Umm Sami.
People are tired of war and thirsty for relief even if only for a brief moment, she said.
This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.