Christmas will be a special celebration for Dina Al-Sammak, Fawaz Fatohi and their family. Photo by Sheila Dabu Nonato

Immigrants bring old world traditions to Canada

  • December 20, 2011

Mississauga, Ont. - It will be a special Christmas for the family of Dina Al-Sammak and Fawaz Fatohi; their son, David, turns a year old this Christmas season, which marks the family’s two-year anniversary in Canada.

Like many Catholic families in the multicultural Greater Toronto Area, the family will be celebrating with Christmas Mass and family get-togethers, integrating some of the cultural traditions of their Iraqi homeland into the festivities.

Before being sponsored as refugees by Mississauga’s St. Dominic Catholic Church in 2009, Al-Sammak says attending Christmas Mass and celebrating with family in Baghdad were luxuries they could not participate in because of the post-war violence in Iraq.

Christians in particular faced persecution from Islamic extremists.

Al-Sammak says aside from midnight Mass and family dinners, Iraqi Christmas traditions aren’t all that different from Canadian ones, except with a cultural twist. For instance, midnight Mass at Mississauga’s St. Joseph Syriac Catholic Church is celebrated in Arabic. (The family has met new friends there who are also former Baghdad residents, but remain connected to St. Dominic’s.)

And yes, they do decorate their homes with Christmas trees, albeit not exactly the fresh evergreens we have here.

Christmas is just as important in the faith lives of African Catholics. For Spiritan Father Alex Osei, who is in charge of the African Catholic community at Toronto’s Holy Name parish, Christmas means celebrating the Ghanian Mass in the traditional language.

The Ghanian Mass is “full of dancing and celebration, praising God, giving thanks to God and giving gifts for one another,” he said.

Osei explained that the Ghanian Christmas tradition is similar to other cultures in its focus on family and reuniting with relatives and friends.

And for Chuma Chukwulzoie, attending the Opus Dei Christmas Mass at Ernescliffe College at the University of Toronto campus will mean continuing his tradition of donning special Nigerian clothing.

However, a popular Nigerian Christmas tradition that is difficult to recreate in Toronto is the tradition of masquerades. On Christmas Day, revellers would come to the village square to perform “marvellous, breath-taking dances accompanied by local drummers and local dancers,” he explained.

Most people in the village come and watch the performance.

One way celebrations differ in Nigeria is the noise level. Chukwulzoie said it is a lot noisier than in Canada, with festivities usually accompanied by firecrackers on the streets, he said.

“These are the most vivid memories to me,” Chukwulzoie recalled.

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