Iraqi Christians maintain Christmas spirit despite distance from family members

Iraqi Christians are striving hard to keep the Christmas spirit alive, even if they have been separated from their family members after they fled the atrocities of the Islamic State (ISIS) in their hometowns.

(REUTERS / Khalid al Mousily)Displaced Christian children who fled Islamic State carry gifts given to them at Zayuna camp in Baghdad December 23, 2015.

While Sami Dankha's family used to celebrate Christmas in Baghdad by dressing up to go to church, singing, eating delectable foods and bonding, the upcoming occasion now reminds them of how Christians left Iraq and other parts of the Middle East in droves. Dankha and his family are now living in Turkey as refugees and are waiting for their resettlement in Australia to be processed, Catholic News Service (CNS) details.

Even though the Dankhas live far away from all their other family members, they still try to communicate with each other using messaging apps. He uses Viber to call his brothers in Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands so that they can spend time together during Christmas.

"I see them celebrating in parties, and I feel sorrowful because I am here and we are separated, in different countries," Dankha told CNS.

Nesrin Arteen, who comes from Zakho, Iraq and is now residing in Canada, is delighted that there is now a Chaldean Catholic church in Saskatoon. She has decided to start her own Christmas traditions there. Her children, who go to a Christian school, are part of a choir that sings Christmas carols in certain places.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Christians in America are praying that they will be united with their families this Christmas. Some of their loved ones are still stuck in northern Iraq and they can only pray that their family members will be able to escape before the ongoing conflict reaches their place, The Catholic Herald relays.

Victoria Rassam, a 56-year-old mother who moved to Chicago two years ago, said she will celebrate Christmas this year by attending midnight mass at the St. Ephrem Chaldean Catholic Church and prays that she can be with her family once again soon. Her sister Firaz, who came to the United States in September, suggested that her Christmas celebration would not be as happy as it used to be when she was still with her whole family.

Rakan Kunda, the Rassams' nephew, said they always remember their family in Iraq every Christmas even though they have been residing in the U.S. for the past 20 years. He said they could do nothing else for them except to pray until all the chaos and violence come to an end.