For the Assyrian community in Turlock, Christmas traditionally means two things: enjoying delicious food and spending time celebrating with family and friends.
“Our ancestors celebrated these traditions and Christmas and their belief in Christ,” said Turlock resident Sam David, who is also the president of the Assyrian American Civic Club. “Having a Christian base, it’s important to carry on tradition not to be different, but to maintain our own culture.”
David’s family origin in Turlock dates back nearly five decades when his grandparents and a number of relatives first moved to the city in 1969, followed by David and more family members eight years later.
David said Assyrian traditions usually begin on Christmas Eve with midnight mass. After communion, members of the Assyrian community gather either in the church or reception hall for harissa, which is a rich porridge made of chicken, wheat, butter and seasoning.
“It resembles oatmeal, but it has chicken in it and it is very flavorful. We have this meal together,” said David. “It’s typically a celebratory thing with more than just an individual family. It’s a community celebratory thing.
“We’ve been able to maintain and sustain that tradition here in the United States,” continued David.
On Christmas, Assyrians usually attend morning mass and afterwards gather with family for a gift exchange. Later that evening, local Assyrians gather at the Assyrian American Civic Club in Turlock for a celebratory evening together filled with harissa, kabobs and drinks — an event that the club has hosted every year since its inception in 1946.
“We generally bring in between 850 to 950 people, so it’s a packed house,” said David. “This is an opportunity to see people you wouldn’t ordinarily see on Christmas and wish them Merry Christmas.”
David said that over the next two weeks following Christmas, Assyrian families traditionally pay visits to their families and friends for Eeda Barakhta, a celebratory blessing of Christmas.
“It’s where our family comes to your house and your family would in return come to our house to typically share a meal,” said David. “It is just the blessing of Christmas and blessing the birth of Christ.
“These are significant values to our community because we were the first to adopt Christianity and they’ve passed on for generation after generation,” added David.
The Christmas celebration at the Assyrian American Civic Hall begins at 5 p.m. on Christmas Day at 2618 N. Golden State Blvd in Turlock. There is an entry fee of $5. Children are under 10 years of age will be admitted free of charge.