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“It was the first time we ever saw something like this.”

Amira, Rashed and their three daughters arrived in Northern Ireland in September 2019, where they were welcomed by the Small World Community Sponsorship group. With Christmas just a couple of weeks away we thought we would talk to Amira about her first Christmas in the UK. She shares her surprise at her daughters’ star turns and why she thinks getting involved in each other’s festivities is so important.

Just three months after Amira and her husband Rashed arrived in the UK they were watching their daughters on stage at the school nativity play. They couldn’t believe their eyes or their ears: “Hala and Seba had roles in the play. It was Seba’s first time doing anything like this and she was there singing in English, and wearing a Queen’s dress. I was surprised. We didn’t think it was our daughter!” says Amira.

The couple had not been too sure about attending the play. “To be honest I was scared a lot because of my English but the reason we decided to go was because Jeni and Heather and the rest of the Community Sponsorship group were going and they encouraged us. We had never seen anything like this!”

The school nativity play was just one of many festive traditions the family experienced that first year. They attended carol concerts at the church, the neighbours brought presents and they tried their first mince pies. “My daughter loves them.”

The extent to which Christmas takes over was a bit of a surprise: “We were aware that Christmas was a thing here, but we didn't know it would be this big and people do all these things for it. We used to see people celebrate it back in Syria but it isn't this big with the lights and the trees and everything else.”

The family were as keen to share their religious festivals with Whitehead as Whitehead had been to teach them all about Christmas. “By the time of Ramadan Covid was here so we couldn’t have it together but the group would knock and leave juice and dates and things on our doorstep. I made Eid biscuits for the neighbours and they bought presents for the kids. Our neighbours are very nice, so then after that anytime there's a celebration, whether it was Eid or Christmas or whatever it was, they would come up for a visit.”

Amira thinks it’s important to share in each other’s celebrations even when they are not your customs: “I think it helps with integration in the society, in both of our communities, and it shows the differences in our cultures. If we don't do this they wouldn't know a thing about us and we wouldn't know anything about them."

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