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Christmas traditions: A Christmas bridge from Sudan to Canada

When Lubna Abdelrahman immigrated to Canada from Sudan 11 years ago, one of the biggest adjustment she had to make was learning about Canadian customs, especially the celebration of Christmas. Now she
When Lubna Abdelrahman immigrated to Canada from Sudan 11 years ago, one of the biggest adjustment she had to make was learning about Canadian customs, especially the celebration of Christmas. Now she's helping other immigrants learn about the Canadian way of celebrating the holidays.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

From early November to late December, we are surrounded by the touchstones of the Christmas season, colourful strings of lights, Santa Claus in malls, Black Friday and Boxing Day sales, special church services, long lines at the grocery store, and harried check-in counters at the airport as families travel to be together over the holidays.

But it’s not that way for everyone. As a nation of immigrants, many new Canadians, or those whose roots are elsewhere, celebrate Christmas by reforging the bonds to the culture and traditions of their homeland. It’s a way of connecting to their heritage, to relatives and friends they may not get the chance to see too often and to pass on their traditions to the next generation. Today, the NewsLeader highlights some of their stories.

 

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In her homeland of Sudan, Lubna Abdelrahman had only a glancing connection to Christmas.

A Muslim, her family’s big celebrations centered around Ramadan and Eid, which move through the calendar according to the lunar cycles.

But half of Sudan’s population is Christian, so Abdelrahman had friends who celebrated Christmas.

And everyone enjoyed a holiday in late December, two days for the Muslim population, and three for the Christians.

In that time they visited each other’s homes, exchanged small gifts. Sometimes they attended special seasonal carnivals.

When their own political beliefs forced Abdelrahman and her husband to immigrate to Canada as refugees 11 years ago, they landed in their new home smack in the middle of the Christmas season.

As they ventured from the welcome house where they first settled to acquire the first necessities of their new life, they were bombarded with the crazy consumerism that accompanies the season.

It was, says Abdelrahman, a little overwhelming.

“I saw all these people giving gifts from Santa,” says Abdelrahman.

“That was a shock. People try to do too much at once.”

A teacher in her homeland, with a natural instinct to learn and reach out to others, Abdelrahman started volunteering to help other refugees like herself acclimatize and get their bearings. She says she felt it was important to educate other newcomers about the culture she herself was still learning at the time. She went to a thrift store and bought a Santa hat.

“We must respect Canadian culture as part of our integration,” says Abdelrahman, who still wears the hat every Christmas season.

This year she’ll be hosting Christmas dinner in her Burnaby home for the first time.

She’s already got a turkey and she took lessons on how to cook it. She’ll serve it with traditional Sudanese dishes like eggplant and chicken spiced with cayenne and garlic. Her guests will bring the cake.

The celebration, says Abdelrahman, is part of her ongoing quest to build bridges between cultures.

“By sharing your own culture, you are an ambassador of your culture,” says Abdelrahman.

“If we don’t participate in our new culture, we will never learn about it.”

 

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