It’s been about two years since 17-year-old Marwan Alwakkaa left Syria for Red Deer.
Alwakkaa arrived with his family in January 2015 and the chill of the winter caught him a bit off-guard, he said.
“It was already snowing when we got here,” he said. “At first I didn’t know it was going to be that cold. When I would go to school. I would always be wearing a jacket.”
On Saturday, Alwakkaa was one of dozens enjoying the winter weather and Christmas-themed festivities at the Central Alberta Refugee Effort’s (CARE) second annual Let It Snow holiday party at Central Middle School.
The party, “has been good the two times I’ve been here. There are so many activities for people,” said Alwakkaa, a student at École Secondaire Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School.
Those taking part in the event, which CARE organized in partnership with Catholic Social Services, fished for candy canes, enjoyed face-painting and got the chance to meet Santa Claus and more.
Tessa Murphy, settlement practitioner at CARE, said the event is meant to encourage newcomers to experience Canadian winter activities.
“It’s inclusion in action. Red Deer is reaching out and showing its welcoming side, which is great,” said Murphy.
Several local groups, including the Girl Guides, RCMP, Gramma-Link and Canada Winter Games, offered activities for people at the event.
“We try to incorporate community members into the event so newcomers can reach out to organizations they maybe have not known about,” Murphy said.
Tetiana Eismont, who moved to Canada from the Ukraine just a year-and-a-half ago, experienced her first Let It Snow holiday party Saturday.
“This is a great chance for the people of Red Deer to get to know each other more. It’s a very warm celebration, and a very warm event,” said Eismont.
Eismont teaches English language classes at CARE.
Eismont was in Calgary during the last year’s party because she had to sort out paperwork to stay in Canada.
“My Ukrainian friends here told me I missed out last year so this time I made sure I could come. My children have been so amused,” she said.
Christmas is “holiday of friendliness and it makes people happy together and gives us a chance to get to know each other more,” Eismont said.