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A Refugee Christmas

It all sounds so familiar

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To encourage students to consider the plight of refugees throughout history (SEAL theme: Empathy).

Preparation and materials

  • Choose readers and encourage them to read with sensitivity. You may like to play gentle music in the background.


Leader: We'd like to tell you a Christmas story.

Reader 1: Once there was a Palestinian couple. The man was a skilled professional. They weren't poor, but then again they weren't especially affluent. They lived a comfortable existence in a small town.

Reader 2: Sadly, their lives weren't entirely under their own control. Palestine was under the thumb of an occupying force. A Western European government, far away across a treacherous sea, formed an administration and laid down the law.

Reader 1: For reasons of their own, the government officials of that far-away country decided to count every member of the population, including the occupied lands. But, rather than counting people where they lived, they forced every man to return, with his family, to the place where he was born. For this couple it meant a journey to a town many miles away. They had to take to the road.

Reader 2: Oh, by the way, the woman was pregnant. Not three months, or even six months, but nearly full term. The last thing she needed was a long, hot, uncomfortable journey.

Reader 1: But when the foreign government says 'Go!' everyone has to go, including the sick, the disabled and the pregnant.

Reader 2: The roads were full and progress was slow, especially because of the lady’s condition. When the couple eventually reached the town where the count was to take place, all the accommodation had long since been taken. They were turned away many times by residents fed up of the influx of visitors. Finally, due to the kindness of one man, they were able to camp for the night in a barn behind his bed and breakfast.

Reader 1: Maybe it was the jolting on the donkey she'd been riding, maybe it was simply her time, but the woman went into labour that night and gave birth to their child, a boy. He was placed in a makeshift bed, a cattle trough, surrounded by the warmth of animals.

Reader 2: I assume they all made it to the count and returned home. I wonder if the new baby was added to the number. However, a new crisis was looming for this travelling family. Fearing a threat to the security of the country, the local authorities organised a cull of all the male children who had been born in the previous few years. Boys were torn from their mothers' arms and slaughtered in the streets. The family fled for their lives, enduring yet another long and hard journey, this time as refugees, without home, possessions or friends. They sought asylum in a country a long way from their home and eventually found safety.

Time for reflection

Leader: You recognise the story, of course. OK, we've cut out the shepherds, the star, the wise men and lots of other details, but it's the traditional Christmas story ... Or is it? The experience of this family is also the experience today of the migrant families, the refugee families, the asylum-seeking families that have been trudging their way from the Middle East and Africa, searching for a place of safety. They've been forced to travel by the actions of governments, by fear for their lives.

For months now we've been fed the news stories from Greece and Italy, from Hungary, from Germany and France. We've seen refugees in flimsy boats, families asphyxiated in locked vans, tent cities on the beaches of holiday resorts. Some of us found ourselves caught up in the crisis at Calais as desperate people tried to storm the Channel Tunnel.

You may wish to bring the refugee crisis story up to date at this point in the assembly.

Maybe you've been drawn to give some form of aid to the families, through money, food or clothing. Certainly many of you will have expressed your opinion in the debate about how a small, crowded island such as ours can best fulfil the moral obligation to help fellow human beings in their time of huge need.

As we approach Christmas, let's allow the Jesus story and today's news to interact with each other. On the one hand, bring to mind the images you've seen of refugees streaming along the roads, of temporary accommodation, of babies born in railway stations, and let these become the images of the Christmas story. We can easily be tempted to airbrush the experience of Joseph and, especially, Mary. The birth of Jesus probably wasn't an easy or cosy experience for her. The stable would not have been clean and the facilities inadequate to say the least. Yet this, Christians believe, was how God chose to enter our world: to identify with those on the lower rungs of the ladder. He became one of us. He identified with our difficult lives.

On the other hand, let’s believe that there is hope in what appears to be a hopeless situation for many of the refugees we see. If governments work together, if we offer something of the plenty we have, if we are welcoming to those who are without friends, without country, some without family, then a new life beckons.

You may wish to give details here of any projects within your area.

Christians believe the birth of Jesus represents the beginning of a whole new era for humanity. Maybe current migration can represent the beginning of a new era for Europe.

Dear Lord,
Thank you for the stability of our homes, our communities and our lives.
Open our eyes to opportunities to share this stability.
Give us the will to act.


‘When I needed a neighbour’ by Daniel Shiels and Mike Newbon, or another suitable song

Publication date: December 2015   (Vol.17 No.12)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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