Newcomers to Saskatchewan are sharing their favourite seasonal traditions while embracing new ones through the Regina Open Door Society.
In the days leading up to Christmas, English students of the non-profit, which provides settlement and integration services to immigrants and refugees, have been singing carols, making festive crafts and playing games that highlight popular local customs around this time of year.
“The colours and the glitter and the brightness of that, definitely it can attract anyone,” said Saima Shafi, the Open Door Society’s employment team lead.
She doesn’t celebrate Christmas, but since immigrating to Canada from Pakistan in 2006, she has come to appreciate the festivities associated with it.
“You can become a part of it by just wishing people around you Merry Christmas or happy holidays,” Shafi said. “If you become a part of their happiness, the expectation is that in future they will become a part of your happiness as well.”
Shamim Ara Neshe, 24, was among the students participating in the activities.
She emigrated from Bangladesh, where she was exposed to Christmas celebrations on a much smaller scale, she said.
“When I’m out at night, there are so many colours,” she said, referring to the scene in Regina. “Everyone decorates their house.”
The Open Door Society structures lessons around what students are exposed to in their daily lives.
Right now, a lot of that has to do with Christmas.
Neshe, who does not celebrate Christmas, said she appreciated the lesson content as of late.
“Before, I don’t know about Christmas that much,” she said. “How they decorate their tree, why they decorate their tree.”
Class time has included students swapping stories about their seasonal traditions back home.
“We share everything with each other, from what their religion is to what my religion is,” she said. “We explain everything to each other if they want to know.”
Shafi remembers what it was like to be in the students’ shoes.
She said connecting with other immigrants, especially over the holidays when people spend more time with family, is an important part of creating new traditions for her.
“When I moved to Regina, there was a lot smaller community, but more close-knit community,” she said.
“The thing is that when you are not in contact with your family, then you try to find family in your friends, which is a good thing as well, because you get time to connect with them, to know them in much more stronger and personal ways.”