Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada Day Traditions a Mystery for Some Syrian Refugees

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada Day Traditions a Mystery for Some Syrian Refugees

Article excerpt

Canada Day 'emotional' for Syrian refugees


TORONTO - Since arriving in Canada seven months ago, Abeer Al Hajj has learned a lot about her new country and how it differs from her native Syria.

Abeer, who turned nine last week, came to Toronto with her parents and two brothers in November as privately sponsored refugees and was almost immediately enrolled in school as well as language classes to bolster her fledgling English.

In many ways, the transition has been seamless -- she has friends, throws herself into her school work and speaks English easily and enthusiastically.

But some aspects of Canadian culture remain puzzling, the girl said on a recent afternoon.

"Here in Canada, they say too much 'thank you' -- 'thank you' and 'welcome' and 'sorry' and 'excuse me,'" she said.

"My teacher, she gave me book to read, I gave it back and she said thank you," something that would never have happened in Syria, where teachers have a more authoritarian approach, she said.

With Canada Day fast approaching, another mystery has emerged for Abeer and her family: how does their new home celebrate its national holiday?

All the girl knows, she said, is that "there's no school."

Celebrating their adoptive country is both a major milestone and a source of uncertainty for many Syrian newcomers, said Safwan Choudhry, spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at, an organization that has helped several families settle in.

"I can tell a lot of them are anxious, they want to see what do Canadians do," he said.

"And I understand where they're coming from because typically, every country celebrates their national day very differently," in many cases with a strong emphasis on military glory, he said.

"So the majority are just curious to see what's going to happen...and I got the sense that a lot of them just want to stand back and watch and soak in how we celebrate Canada Day."

Many Syrian families in the Toronto area are expected to attend the annual Canada Day celebration hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at, a massive event that typically draws thousands and is set to take place outside a mosque in Vaughan after afternoon prayers.

Choudhry said the Friday sermon will centre on Canada Day and loyalty to one's country. …

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