Christmas biscuit bake-in with Muslim refugees in Dresden

22.12.2015

Leyla Shakuri shakes multicoloured hundreds-and-thousands over the biscuits, taking care to dsitribute them evenly. "I want to know everything about your Christmas," the 16-year-old Afghan girl with the colourful headscarf says. Four months ago, she, her mother and her two sisters fled their home for sanctuary in Germany.

The family left the initial reception centre just days ago and has now moved into a flat in Dresden. The four are sitting with other families in the eastern German city and baking biscuits. "Is it true that you put presents under a fir tree at Christmas?" she asks in English. Many of the Muslim refugees streaming into Germany are seeing Christmas for the first time.

"We want to demonstrate how we celebrate Christmas here, the traditions that are significant to us and nothing more than that," Heidi Franzke says. The 71-year-old Dresden woman is member of a welcome initiative that has organised this joint biscuit baking event in the Pieschen part of the city. Franzke well knows that not everyone in the state of Saxony – formerly part of communist East Germany – welcomes the influx.

Protests have been held outside housing made available for the refugees that have turned violent in places like Freital and Heidenau in the state, and the anti-immigrant Pegida movement – the German acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West – is based in Dresden. This only makes the biscuit-baking session more important for Franzke and her friends.

"Counter-demonstrations against Pegida are not enough. We have to do more," she says. The elderly woman picks up a leaflet from the table showing a Christmas tree, Christmas decorations and a Father Christmas. "This is Santa Claus," she tells a young Iraqi mother, who has joined the bake-in along with her two small girls. The young woman speaks neither German nor English, but she nods enthusiastically, writing notes in Arabic next to the pictures.

Leyla and her sisters help with translation and a smartphone with an English-Arabic app is put to good use. Franzke picks up her guitar and breaks into a Christmas song of joy. Hajar, a 4-year-old Iraqi girl, plucks at the strings as the German woman sings. Celebrating Christmas with Muslim refugees is an excellent idea in the view of Juergen Micksch, chairman of Germany's Intercultural Council.

Jesus is a major prophet in Islam, he notes, even if Muslims do not celebrate his birth the way Christians do. More importantly, by being drawn into Christmas festivities, refugees can get to know about the customs and traditions of Germany, the country in which they have chosen to live. The Refugee Council in the state of Saxony has however cautioned against asking too much of the newcomers.

"Most of them have other things on their minds than having to deal with the Christmas hustle and bustle," the council's Patrick Irmer says. What is important is for Germans to engage with the refugees in his view. But precisely this is what is happening at the Dresden bake-in, even if communication across the language barrier is not always easy. While the link with Christmas is there, it is not the key factor.

There is a lot of laughter and Leyla's mother is smiling, even though she understands little of what is said around her. Heidrun Angermann, a 65-year-old German woman, is also sitting silently as she joins in the biscuit decorating. "These people are no different from us," is her ultimate verdict.  (dpa)

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