Easter in Syria

Easter Celebrations, Damascus

Easter Celebrations, Damascus

It might not be the most obvious place to celebrate Easter, but the chances are that this most important date in the Christian calendar has been marked in Damascus for more years than in almost any other city. Syria has a large Christian minority and as we happened to be in Damascus last year over the Easter weekend we were able to observe a part of the celebrations, albeit by chance.

The Eastern Orthodox church, to which the majority of Syrian Christians belong, celebrates Easter one week after the feast is marked in western Europe. As a result we had arrived in Damascus unaware of the significance of the date. We had spent Easter Sunday in Beirut and had seen no suggestion of any religious celebrations. On the following day we chose to wander through the old Damascene streets, enjoying the sounds, sights and above all the wonderful aromas that tempt from every corner.

Syrian Scouts' parade, Damascus

Syrian Scouts' parade, Damascus

Having wandered through the Christian quarter and being almost ready for lunch, we were making our way towards the central area when we heard the heavy beating of drums and the chanting of crowds in the distance. With the words of all government advisories about steering clear of any public demonstrations ringing in our ears, we set off to investigate.

It took a while to find the source of all this noise, but as we approached a large church in the centre of the old city we saw thousands of people observing and taking part in a large parade. Leading the parade were what appeared to be a troop of scouts, carrying the national flag alongside other unrecognisable standards. The atmosphere was one of boisterous celebration, and it was a noisy but enjoyable spectacle to step into. We watched the parade for several minutes as they filed in a haphazard way into the church.

Al Khawali, Damascus

Al Khawali, Damascus

By that time we were more than ready for lunch, and stumbled across an old Damascene house that had been converted into a superb restaurant.

Syria was full of such surprises for us, and the easy mingling of its Christian and Muslim populations is somewhat at odds with the poor reputation it suffers in the west. But then how often do we travel to a country that is considered risky by many, and find tolerance, open arms and warm hospitality?

Related post: Old Damascus – a place to lose yourself

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4 Responses to “Easter in Syria”

  1. Ah, the call of a parade! Beyond the sound of drums and the noise of voices, don’t you find that there’s a curious energy generated by large groups of celebrating people …there’s a magnetic quality that draws you to it, travel advisories and warnings be damned!

    This sounds like a totally fun experience, Andy. Thanks for sharing.

    And you are right, often the experience ‘on the ground’ is different from what experts tell us it is. My first trip to Portugal was right between two revolutions. I saw only 1 soldier in the month I was there. Plus I made 2 trips to Belfast at the height of The Troubles in the late 70’s. For certain it was clear that it was a dangerous place and you had to have your wits about you.

    But it was very interesting to see how people managed to get on with their lives in spite of all of the very real restrictions they needed to live with.

    Happy Easter however you are celebrating it this year.

    Gwen McCauley

    April 4, 2010 at 10:48 am
  2. I’m in Madaba, Jordan today, where the majority of Christians are Greek Orthodox as well. Had no idea they celebrate Easter a week later, so thanks for the info!

    April 4, 2010 at 11:51 am
  3. Great post. Thanks. Syria is such a wonderful place to travel. The people are incredibly friendly and hospitable. And it’s a great destination for Christian pilgrims too.

    I wrote this article about St. Paul’s journey to Damascus: http://gomadnomad.com/2009/11/15/on-the-road-to-damascus/

    April 5, 2010 at 12:02 am
  4. Gwen, thanks for the greetings and a Happy Easter to you too. Glad to hear you’ve not shied away from visiting some great places for the sake of a bit of bad press. So often when we’ve arrived in a place where a poor reputation precedes, it’s hard to equate that negative perception with the reality.

    Laura, have a wonderful time in Jordan!

    Stephen, glad you liked Syria too and thanks for sharing the link. I was fascinated by your account of following St Paul’s trail through Damascus.

    April 5, 2010 at 7:04 am