What do the Holidays Mean to a Refugee?

Author: Bethelehem Haile

The holiday season is a time of togetherness and reflection.  This is no different for many refugees who have come to call the U.S. home and have adopted American traditions as well as kept their home country customs. For many, it is a pause from the grueling cycle of hardship that comes with adjusting to a new life and is an opportunity to spend time with family and friends as well as visit nearby attractions.

In an interview with a former refugee from Afghanistan, I received a glimpse into what the holidays mean to him and other Afghan refugees in the U.S.  In Afghanistan, the holidays are marked by visiting extended family, enjoying delicious food, and narrating stories. Although replicating this fully in the U.S. might not be possible as many are separated from loved ones, the idea of visiting family members has remained, and provides an opportunity to spend quality time and de-stress.

In a traditional role reversal, during the holidays, Afghan men take the lead in the kitchen and cook, usually Kabob, for the entire family. Once visitors come, the men and women will separate to enjoy each other’s company, play sports, discuss personal challenges as well as successes. Planning gatherings, cooking food together, and making friends during outings have a positive effect on the health of refugees especially after a year of ups and downs in refugee resettlement.

Holiday traditions may differ from family to family, neighbor to neighbor and even country to country. Nevertheless, at the heart of this season is a glaring similarity of seeking the comfort and familiarity of family and friends’ company. For refugees, this time may be difficult as memories of a previous life replay in their minds. However, they continue to persevere and create new memories, incorporating snippets of their old and new home.


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