Christmas celebrated across cultures in Wagga

Culture embraced: Afghani-Wagga man Sharif Abdul Hussain, his wife Zakira Mohammad Tahir and children Aqsa Sharif, Tuba Sharif, 16, Sajjad Sharif, 15 and Zuha Sharif, 10 are looking forward to celebrating the season with Wagga.
Culture embraced: Afghani-Wagga man Sharif Abdul Hussain, his wife Zakira Mohammad Tahir and children Aqsa Sharif, Tuba Sharif, 16, Sajjad Sharif, 15 and Zuha Sharif, 10 are looking forward to celebrating the season with Wagga.

The Sharif family may not believe in Christmas, but nothing will stop them from sharing the merry season with Wagga. 

As a journalist in Afghanistan, Sharif Abdul Hussain’s life was in danger. 

To escape the civil war, Mr Sharif fled with his family to Pakistan. 

Days gone by: Former journalist Sharif Abdul Hussain interviewing about new legislation in Afghanistan 2004.

Days gone by: Former journalist Sharif Abdul Hussain interviewing about new legislation in Afghanistan 2004.

Four-years later, Mr Sharif, his wife Zakira and their four children were on a plane to Australia and calling Wagga home by December 2014.

They are one of 18 Afghani families across the region, having settled in Wagga as part of the nationally-acclaimed Riverina Humanitarian Program.

The family’s friend and volunteer support worker Mark Macleod said he would never forget the response he received, when he asked whether it was okay to decorate the Sharif’s home for Christmas. 

“I was cautious because the family were Muslim,” Mr Macleod said. 

“I asked if it was alright and they said: ‘Of course – why would we not want to do anything to increase the happiness in the world’.” 

Mr Macleod was one of more than 200 volunteers across the city, working with Saint Vincent de Paul and Wagga’s Multicultural Council to help settle refugees across the region. 

Mr Macleod said their words had struck a chord. 

He said given context of “all the political nonsense about refugees” at the time, the Sharif family were a shining example of acceptance and tolerance. 

“They want to fit in,” he said. “They want to be good Australians.” 

Aqsa Sharif said her family had arrived during the festive season, with Christmas lights and decorations bringing their new city to life. 

“Every year we light up the Christmas tree,” Ms Sharif said.

“Our neighbours and friends are celebrating and we want to share that with them.”

The 19-year-old said her family was also celebrating their arrival in Wagga – a move that brought new hope and freedom from the destruction of war. 

Our neighbours and friends are celebrating and we want to share that.

Aqsa Sharif

“Some of our friends buy us presents,” Ms Sharif said. “We like to share that special tradition with them.”

She said even though their religion did not recognise Christmas, they knew other residents did. 

“We respect all religions,” Ms Sharif said. “We respect Christmas and other celebrations.”

The Sharif family said it was the nice people, the peace, and the new possibilities that made Wagga home. 

While Ms Sharif’s father is studying to become a teacher’s aid, the 19-year-old will begin her medical science degree in Canberra next year.