Christmas dinner with the Refugee Cooking Group

I woke up on my own on Christmas morning. Having decided that this would be the year I experimented with having a Christmas in Berlin, I had forfeited spending time with my family in the UK and all the normal traditions that we follow every year. I have to admit it was quite a sad moment, opening presents by myself, having a little drink of champagne with no one to wish a Happy Christmas to. For the first few hours of Christmas day I really regretted my decision to have a Berlin Christmas. Luckily, I had kept one tradition – the stress of trying to cook Christmas dinner. But this was not an ordinary Christmas dinner, this was a Refugee Cooking Group Christmas dinner. Lucy and I had braved the supermarket on Christmas Eve and bought a trolley full of vegetables, chicken, rice and drinks in preparation, waiting for over half an hour in the queue during the last minute rush before the shops shut for the festive period.

Migration Hub had kindly offered us the space to host our Christmas cooking session but we faced the small challenge of not having an oven! So I decided to try to cook 10 kilograms of chicken on my own in my tiny oven at home. This seemed like a great idea until I realised that my old oven simply couldn’t cope with the huge amount of meat it was trying to cook. The outside of the chicken was burnt and the inside was barely cooked – it was all starting to feel exactly like Christmas day, just without the family arguing over what we should do to salvage the chicken. But salvage it I did and then jumped in a taxi with more chicken than I could comfortably carry.

I arrived at Migration Hub late and just about recovered from the chicken fiasco. It was great to see that there were already people there chopping vegetables and preparing the Sudanese stew that we often make together at the cooking group. There were some of our regular team members there and some new faces as well. Everyone wished me a Merry Christmas and I started getting into the spirit – the glass of prosecco certainly helped!

I sat down next to a man called Giles, a photographer who is documenting the refugee crisis and who had fascinating stories to tell from Lebanon, Lesbos and Afghanistan. His story in itself is incredibly unique and moving. Giles and Bahjat, a member of our community from Syria, began talking and realised that on the same day Giles had been taking photographs of refugees arriving on the beaches at Lesbos, Bahjat’s boat had reached the shore. It was an amazing moment and made us realise how small our world really is.

More and more people started arriving and by 5pm there were around 40 people celebrating Christmas together – many people had prepared dishes at home and brought them to share with us and we had a real Christmas feast laid out on the table.

Will, from the English teaching group, brought speakers with him and this was when the party really got going. The younger members in our community are now famous for their Syrian/ Afghan dance parties and it only took about 5 minutes of the music playing for them to start their show. Everyone clapped along and enjoyed the performance. And eventually most of the other people were dancing too!

The day was filled with laughter, music, food and friends both new and old. It was everything a Christmas day should be and more and brought us back to the reason why we started the cooking group in the first place: to show that we are all human no matter what our legal status is. We always share the universal need of food, and this Christmas we shared the universal desire to celebrate with people we care about. It may not have been the Christmas Day I was used to but it was certainly a Christmas Day I could get used to!

We would like to thank everyone who came and shared the day with us – especially those who helped cook or brought a dish to share, Migration Hub for the space, Will for the music, and those who donated money for the food.

The cooking group will continue into its third year in 2016 cooking in BlogFabrik on Oranienstrasse. We’re looking forward to spending more time with our old friends, forming new friendships and continuing to build a community of people from all nationalities and legal statuses.

Lorna Cannon has been running the Refugee Cooking Group since its inception almost three years ago. In 2015 she launched the Refugee Voices: Solidarity Tours, which sees refugees host tours around Berlin and share their experiences as people with refugee status.