Eid celebrations take on Syrian flavour

The Record Kitchener - Thousands of Waterloo Region's Muslims celebrated one of biggest holidays in the Islamic calendar at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium on Monday, with a special embrace for their newest Syrian additions.

With bouncy castles, a kids' train, rock climbing, basketball battles and games of bean bag toss, the Eid celebrations had a carnival atmosphere. Excited kids zigzagged through the crowd, hopped up on cotton candy, snow cones and popcorn.

But the celebrations, marked by a diverse local Muslim community that has roots in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and beyond, had an especially Syrian touch this year — a deliberate attempt to welcome the region's 1,200 new Canadian Syrian refugees.

For many of them, this would be their first or second Eid celebration in Canada.

"If you're standing at Homer Watson and Ottawa, you wouldn't even know it's Eid. So we hoped this would help them feel a little bit of 'back home' in their new country," said Faisal Raja, a spokesperson for this year's festivities.

"If you're a newer person, and not quite integrated, you could feel quite lonely for the holiday."

Organizers brought in Canadian-Syrian acts to complement other performers in the daylong variety show — which included standup comedy, trivia, a reptile show, songs by Ilyas Mao, a Canadian singer of Somali heritage, and Fatima Attia, a spoken-word artist from Wilfrid Laurier University.

When Syrian folk dance group A'rada took the stage, the crowd danced and clapped and pulled out their phones to record the performance. Syrian teen group Sham also had people on their feet.

A sponsorship program organized through the local chapter of the Muslim Association of Canada covered the costs of admission for Syrian refugee families, and gave them free food and drinks, said organizer Nabila Zizi.