In Gaza, in my catholic school, the little warmth I had on those cold mornings came only from the powerful loving words of An Arabic Christmas Song, a prayer for peace and normal lives. We used to sing at school during Christmas season. The nuns, always fascinating to me, handed out the song lyrics. This was such an exciting moment, the most favorite of all – receiving the lyrics and then that magic moment when we were asked to sing. Many of the children thought this was just a boring exercise and didn’t mean much but some did it with big hearts, others had no interest in singing beyond getting through to the next break. I loved it.
A tape recorder is playing in the background of the classroom, so that we don’t get the tune wrong. And the headmaster is singing on the microphone. We sing along. These words have a special place in my heart. I am 10 years old.
Laylat Al Milad Yonmaha Al Boghd (On Christmas Eve, hatred is erased)
Laylat Al Milad Tozhir Al Ardu (On Christmas Eve, earth blossoms)
Laylat Al Milat Todfan Al Harb (On Christmas Eve, war is buried)
Laylat Al Milad Yanbotu Al Hobu (On Christmas Eve, love sprouts)
Twenty years after, I decided to check and see if modern technology held a surprise for me. It did. I found the song in a Lebanese collection of Christmas songs. I didn’t know until then that it existed beyond our old school walls in downtown Gaza.
I don’t put a Christmas tree in my house and neither did my parents. But the loving joyful images and sounds of Christmas have always been present even though in Gaza they mean little to the mostly Muslims. But in my memory, there is always a small tree somewhere in the corner of the classroom.
Note: Najla is a Muslim women and how, we wondered, did Najla end up in a Catholic school.
Najla: I went to Catholic school because it was one of 2 or 3 private schools then. Now there are many and this private school was especially important for two reasons; my parents wanted me to benefit from a good education and learn English. It was the best then and because the school’s students didn’t participate in the almost weekly demonstrations against the Israeli occupation, so it was a protected for me. And what parent does not want her child safe in her school?