Advent and Christmas are, for most of us, festive times of joy and closeness. For children they’re a time of looking forward to gifts. For Christians, it is a time of celebrating the coming of Jesus Christ to earth. Christmas 2022 is also the first, and hopefully the last, that millions of people must spend away from home, separated from their families and friends because of the war in Ukraine. The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in the Czech Republic is doing its best to make their holiday season as comfortable as possible.
“The children are waiting for gifts and do not lose faith in magic, but they miss home and their father very much,” Vladislava, an Ukrainian refugee, said. “New Year is undoubtedly a magical time, and it is fascinating to see how this holiday is celebrated in the Czech Republic. We plan to celebrate as always with family, but for the first time without father, it is very sad.”
Even though Christmas is celebrated in Ukraine a few days later than in the Czech Republic, and the customs and way of celebration are also different, the time spent with family and friends is what unites the two countries.
ADRA prepared several joint events for refugees from Ukraine, the vast majority of whom are women and children. The festivities brought Czech traditions to the fore, organizers said. ADRA leaders sought to offer a friendly environment and an open community where everyone felt welcome and could forget, at least for a while, how their lives were changed beyond recognition by recent events.
“Christmas is not a real holiday for me this year because we are not at home and there is a war in our country,” another refugee, Natalia, said. “But Christmas trees and children’s smiles remain. [My son] Denys is in a festive mood and is happy with the Christmas trees; he is waiting for the presents. We live with hope for better times.”
Thanks to Air Bank’s financial support, all 15 of ADRA Czech Republic’s volunteer centers have been able to organize events for children and adults. In Prague, Brno, Ostrava, Pilsen, Frýdek-Místek, and many other places, Santa Claus parties, crafts, tree decorating, concerts, and other activities engaged refugees of all ages.
One of the traditional activities in the Czech Republic is known as “Saint Nicholas gatherings.” The character of Nicholas (Mikuláš) is well known to Ukrainian children and is even more significant for them than for Czech children. In Ukraine, children don’t find presents under a tree, but Nicholas comes on December 19 and usually leaves gifts by the bed. A common tradition is singing carols or reciting poems by decorated trees in town squares or schools.
ADRA Czech Republic leaders encouraged volunteers and supporters to open their hearts this Christmas, especially remembering those in need. “We can support them through prayer and donations,” they said.