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Host refugees at Christmas: Berlin bishop

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Host refugees at Christmas: Berlin bishop
A refugee and a volunteer decorate a Christmas tree together in Bremen. Photo: DPA
10:38 CET+01:00
As Germany prepares for another traditional Christmas, the Catholic bishop of Berlin has called on his flock to invite refugees to join their celebrations this year.

"We should make lots of personal contacts. Why not invite someone to celebrate Christmas with you at home?" Bishop Heiner Koch said.

"This is a kind of modern version of the Nativity story."

The bishop also promised that the Church would strive to organize more volunteer helpers in Berlin to give those who have been working so hard in recent months a well-earned break.

Teaching refugees about Christmas

Meanwhile in Nuremberg refugees are encountering the holiday for the first time. Bavaria's second city is perhaps the town most associated with the festive season in the German imagination, famous for its Christmas market and the Christkind (Christ child) ceremony. 

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"There were so many people there – and suddenly everyone went totally silent," said Mustafe, a 17-year-old refugee from Somalia who attended the traditional opening of the Nuremberg Christmas market.

While he couldn't completely understand the speech by the girl playing the Christkind this year as she spoke too fast for him, he understood that it was "a very special and celebratory occasion" for Nurembergers.

Young refugees and volunteers at the Nuremberg Christmas market. Photo: DPA

Mustafe is one of around 14,500 unaccompanied refugee children living in Bavaria – part of a total of 60,000 in Germany.

One of the others in his small group living in Schnaittach, near Nuremberg, is Syrian Abdul Salam, who recalled local celebrations in his home town of Latakia and his Christian friends' stories about their traditions.

'It makes sense to explain it to them'

While most of the the nine teenagers in the Abdul and Mustafe's group only knew the festival from American films like Home Alone, that hasn't stopped them from becoming curious as December 25th approaches.

Abdifatah, another Somali, explained that he is reading the Bible in English and finding many similarities with Islam.

Just as Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, Muslims also celebrate the birth of the prophet Mohammed, he said.

"We've found that people who believe are also very interested in other religions," said Gülay Aybar-Emonds from the Nuremberg Intercultural Office.

She and her colleagues have been explaining Christmas traditions to newly-arrived Muslims, saying that "they're soaking up the whole atmosphere, so it makes sense to explain it to them".

Around 70 percent of asylum applicants are Muslim, while 16 percent are Christian, according to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF).

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