In that photo, that frozen moment, one sole tree was standing. Simply decorated with strips of yellow lights wrapped around it. The humble Christmas tree stood there, informing the residents of Al-Hasakah – my home city – that the holidays season has arrived. Passers-by staring strangely at the tree as if though it’s a ray of light that found its way into a dark cave. The Christmas tree looked lonely, strange, worn out, yet enchanting. Like a tear of joy, or a smile of a newborn.
Last week, sitting on my aunt’s couch in Berlin 3720 km away from my home city in Northeast Syria, I saw that photo of the Christmas tree on Facebook. It’s always overwhelming when I see something and the memories start flowing like a rapid stream. As if it’s a flood locked behind a dam, and the dam is destroyed by a simple scene or scent.
Out of 20 Christmases I’ve “celebrated” throughout my entire lifetime (including this year), I’ve spent 17 of them in Hasakah. The last 3 Christmases that I’ve spent away, have been nothing like a celebration. I simply haven’t figured out how to celebrate this holiday away from my home and friends.
I remember one particular Christmas when I went out with my friends to a restaurant. Perhaps the reason why I never forget that year, is because of how I embarrassingly slipped in the street in front of dozens of people, but that’s not all. That day, I saw something beyond magical.
My friends and I had agreed to meet at the cross-roads between Al-Qudat street and Al-Mahattah street. We met there as planned, and greeted each other with our usual hug and three kisses. Except for Douha, whom would give 5 kisses on each cheek, and hug for about 5 minutes, wobbling from right to left, and left to right. Everyone was dressed up in the nicest outfit they had. I was wearing black, slim-cut trousers, a violet long-sleeved shirt, and black wedge heels which were the reason why I slipped. My entire outfit was new, specially-bought for Christmas. We walked along Al-Mahattah street, at the end of which was “Bubbles”, a very popular restaurant close to the center of the city. With most of the street-lights broken, the street was under-illuminated. That made it perfect for the decorated palms in the street to stand out, and give a heavenly sentiment of a few lights shining in the darkness. Yet the most heavenly was the sound of Fairuz singing Christmas carols, coming out of a house nearby. I didn’t know who that person was, or what religion he believed in, but what he did was the most Christmassy of all my Christmases, and for that reason I was grateful to him. He had set a huge pair of speakers on his balcony, and played Fairuz for hours for everyone to enjoy that magical atmosphere. It may be something that happens every Christmas in your city, but at Al-Mahattah street in my city, this was unusual, so it felt like a Christmas present from an unkown – a pleasant surprise.
I looked around and saw people smiling genuinely. Some mumbling the lyrics, singing along with Fairuz. Others dancing merrily to the music. Their faces were shining with joy, tranquility and trust. With oneness. At that moment, it didn’t matter whether they were a girl wearing a headscarf like Douha, or a woman wearing a little black dress like the one that was standing across the street. It didn’t matter whether they were boys hanging a cross bigger than the pope’s on their necks, or an old man heading to the mosque nearby to pray the Ashaa. They were united in love and human kindness. Right then and there, life was beautiful and the world was at peace.
Today, it saddens me to see fear dominant. To see people suspicious of everything beautiful. It saddens me that people are so caught up in their sorrows and fears, that they forget to see others through the lens of humanity. To see them as beings thirsty for love, sympathy and kind gestures. Like playing Fairuz aloud for Christmas, or offering a sandwich to a street child, or even smiling in the bus to someone you’ve never met. What would build a bridge between people can be as simple as that.
This Christmas, all I wish for is gestures like that. Something to bring people closer together. Something to make them trust each other again, and drink from the fountain of the never-ending goodness inside of them, in my Hasakah and all around the world.