My husband and I did not get a Christmas tree this year. I’m not going to lie, this was a tough one for me. I’ve been wrestling with the joys and struggles of putting up a Christmas tree every year since leaving the proverbial nest of childhood (remind me sometime to tell you the story about how I strung all the lights, then, in a final act of literal tree-trimming, cut the cord in half with the scissors).
But this year, with one thing after another, things just got away from us. And since we’ll be traveling for Christmas, it just didn’t make sense to go through the hassle.
It was while reflecting upon — read: feeling sorry for myself — this year’s tree-less existence that I saw the tweet. “This is what Christmas in #Aleppo used to look like” it read, in part. Attached to the tweet were four photographs, each one featuring a very colorful, very ornate and very festive Christmas tree. Two were outside and two were inside, and all were surrounded by other decorations and lights — clearly Christmas being celebrated to its fullest extent.
Suddenly the loss of my one little tree in my safe, non-war-ridden home seemed inconsequential, to say the least. Aleppo, Syria — one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world — has no Christmas decorations this year, nor has it had any for years. The colorful trees have been replaced by heaps of rubble and destruction, as well as continuous terror of civilians, as nationalist and rebel forces continue their brutal assault on one another.
Recent reports indicated that 82 civilians, including many women and children, were shot in their homes or attempting to flee them Dec. 12, what one official called “a complete meltdown of humanity.” Many others are under siege or too frail to flee their homes. In a surreal action, some civilians Dec. 13 took to social media to post goodbye messages. Wrote Bana Alabed on Twitter: “My name is Bana, I’m 7 years old. I am talking to the world now live from East #Aleppo. This is my last moment to either live or die.”
It is unfathomable not only that this is happening currently, but that this spring will mark the sixth anniversary of this catastrophic and devastating civil war.
In a communication sent to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad via newly appointed Cardinal Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Syria, Pope Francis appealed for an end to the violence, for peace and that “international humanitarian law is fully respected with regard to the protection of the civilians and access to humanitarian aid.”
As we celebrate Christmas this year in our safe, warm and happy homes — with or without a Christmas tree — let us remember those in Aleppo and throughout Syria who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in constant peril. And let us pray that the peace of the newborn King will be known to them very soon.