Image courtesy of Omar Ahmed Image by: Image courtesy of Omar Ahmed
And being able to share the experience with his wife and son was a big improvement over Omar's first Christmas in Canada six years earlier, when he was a single, newly arrived PhD student at the University of Guelph. He'd spent that day alone, missing his family and friends back home.
Despite that experience, Omar quickly came to appreciate the safety and security of Canada, instead of the ongoing battles in Iraq. Mosul, the town where he and Amina lived until Omar left to set up their life in Canada in 2008, is now under ISIS control. (Amina joined him in April 2014, and Zack was born five months later.) They still worry about family left behind.
These days, Omar is a faculty member in the University of Guelph's engineering department, and Canada feels like home—a place where he and his young family have been made to feel welcome and where Christmas has become a time to look forward to. Because they're Muslim, the family doesn't celebrate Christmas in a religious way, but they've learned to enjoy some of the traditions, including exchanging gifts.
"When you are new to a community, you don't quite know what to do," says Omar. "But the Canadians we met would give us gifts, and so we gave gifts back. I think it increases the sense of community, giving to each other."
Their circle of friends is diverse. "Many of my friends are Christians, and they will invite us for holiday dinners," he says, adding that they check with him to ensure that the food meets Muslim dietary restrictions. "One friend mentioned he'd left the wine out of the sauce on the fish so we could eat it." It means a lot to the couple that their friends make the effort to include them.
This year, Zack is an active toddler, and Omar looks forward to showing him the lights again and watching him unwrap his gifts. "I think it will be exciting for him. The lights, to me, are another example of community. People put them up not only for themselves but also so other people can see them, and it makes them happy."
Omar's least favourite part of the holiday: the weather. "I know that after Christmas, the real winter weather comes," he says. "I like it when the first snow comes—it's beautiful—but then, it keeps snowing and snowing, and you want to say, ‘Just go away.' " Sounds like a typical Canadian.
Check out the story of how these newlywed seniors celebrated their first Christmas together.
This story was originally part of "Feels Like Home" in the December 2015 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!