“I wish we were home, but I like it here as well”- Celebrating Christmas with refugees in Moldova

Image is of a young children in a Santa hat and Christmas jumper

Dr Liliana Rotaru is the Director of Children, Communities and Families (CCF), our partner organisation in Moldova.

We’ve been working closely with CCF Moldova to support refugees who fled the fighting to find safety across the border. In this blog, Liliana gives us an insight into a particular type of festive support which made all the difference to refugee children during the holiday period – Christmas celebrations.

“Thank you for coming and sharing in our celebration.”

This is what a little girl told us at the Christmas celebration we held at the Refugee Accommodation Centre (RAC) in Chisinau, Moldova. The children at the centre enjoyed songs and dancing, sweets and presents from Father Christmas, and time spent together with their loved ones.

A Christmas celebration should not be an out-of-the-ordinary event for children, but the war in Ukraine made this Christmas party very different.  

Feeling far away from home, celebrating with people they didn’t even know a few weeks or months ago, worrying about their loved ones who stayed behind to fight and help win the war – these are the concerns that children and adults fleeing the crisis in Ukraine are facing. 

In 2022, we worked with almost 12,000 refugees, both adults and children. We’ve offered many vital types of support – from food, hygiene supplies and information, to counselling, activities for children, and devices for online schooling.

But at this time of year, what brings back some feelings of normality is the return to Christmas traditions and celebrations.  

Will Santa find us in our new country? 

Image is of a person with their back to camera wearing a Santa hat, surrounded by children playing in a circle
Children taking part in Christmas celebrations at a RAC. Image credit: CCF Moldova

In early December, our facilitators did a round of consultations with caregivers and children at each of the Refugee Accommodation Centres and planned Christmas celebrations together. Children kept asking if Santa would find them in their new country and if he would have the money to bring gifts to everyone. So, with the support of Hope and Homes for Children’s donors, we helped organise seven Christmas celebrations all over the country, well attended by 276 children and over 100 adults. 

The end of December brought with it Christmas cheer and spirit. Children sang carols and patriotic songs while holding their little hands over their hearts – it was moving and very special. In one of the centres, children learned a carol in Romanian and sang it to staff and their parents. Parents participated too and, in another centre, parents prepared a dance for the Christmas celebration.  

We provided Christmas trees and decorations for children to make their temporary homes beautiful, we brought sweets for all children and organised magic activities and games. 

Helping families keep going 

Image is of children and adults sat together receiving gifts
Children receiving their Christmas gifts. Image credit: CCF Moldova

Parents told us that they dream of going back home, but that over the last months, the activities organised for them and their children have been what’s kept them going. They said that if the war continues, they hope they can come back for more get-togethers and more activities for their children, so they can make friends, enjoy their childhood, and forget the sadness in their home country. 

A 15-year-old boy in one of the centres told us that back home they had parties, sang and recited poems, received gifts and enjoyed the company of friends and family. He ended by saying: “I wish we were home, but I like it here as well.” 

At that moment, we felt honoured and humbled to witness the children’s joy and happiness reflected on their parents’ faces. 

Dr Liliana Rotaru is the Director of Children, Communities and Families (CCF). She was awarded the 2020-21 United Nations General Award for Outstanding Human Rights Achievement at national level in Moldova.