Syria: Qamishli's Christians get ready for Easter as they pray for their homeland

3 min read

Christians in Qamishli in the Al-Hasakah province, northeast Syria, celebrated Palm Sunday last week, amid a festive atmosphere as the city's streets filled with the sound of drums and the Qamishli Scouts' brass band marched through the streets, their tunes filling the air.

Church bells rang out and pilgrims sang hymns to celebrate the holy day which occurs one week before Easter Sunday on which Christ's resurrection is commemorated, three days after his crucifixion.

Religious rituals passed down generations

The feast day contains rituals passed down through generations that have been preserved by the city's Christians, says radio presenter Maria Hanna to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication. She explains that Palm Sunday is celebrated on this day by the Syriac Orthodox and the Greek Orthodox in accordance with the Eastern Orthodox calendar (or the Julian calendar).

"The feast day contains rituals passed down through generations which have been preserved by the city's Christians"

The day's traditional rituals begin with the Palm Sunday mass which is attended by Christians at the church. Children will all dress in white, and Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem is symbolised by churchgoers carrying candles and olive branches, which evoke the historical event.

Candles light the way into Holy Week

Hanna mentions another ritual: the Qamishli Scouts' carnival and the brass band, which parades through the city's streets. In the evening, beginning at six o'clock, the nahiri (or "light prayer") begins (the word derives from nehru, meaning illumination), signalling the start of Holy Week.

The light prayer begins with one of the seminarians imitating a priest who calls out: "Lord, Lord, open your door for me". While they do this, the church is lit with candles, and then another voice calls out commanding the door be opened, and the women begin to cheer as the veil which separates the altar from the main body of the church is opened, and then the hashou (or "passion prayer") begins.

A young Syrian Christian girl holds a candle during Palm Sunday celebrations at the Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary in the city of Qamishli [Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty]

This will carry on for the whole week, ending with Maundy Thursday, on which the "Secret Supper" (or "Last Supper" as it is more commonly known in the UK) is commemorated. This is followed by Good Friday, after which comes Holy Saturday (also known as "Saturday of the Fire") and then Easter Sunday according to the Eastern calendar.

Christians and non-Christians take part

Majd Abdul-Ahad, a Qamishli resident, says that recently it has been peaceful in most areas of Al-Hasakah governorate, except for the northern areas at the border, and that this holiday had been calm and characterised by a celebratory and festive atmosphere in which Christians and non-Christians have taken part, exchanging congratulations and blessings on the holy day in an expression of goodwill and love towards one another.

With the easing of coronavirus restrictions in the region, many Christians attended the celebrations, including Salwa Ibrahim, who said this year had differed from the last in terms of the joyful feeling in the city, and how many people had joined in with the traditional rites and carnival. She said: "I hope that the holy days of the residents of Qamishli and all Syrian cities with all of their sects, will be full of love and peace and far from war."

This year, the Christian celebration of Easter takes place during the month of Ramadan, so the people of northeast Syria are able to take part in each other's holy days and festive customs.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko   

This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

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