First Estonian refugee Christmas market leaves a sweet taste in visitors’ mouths

Exotic sweets to put in Santa’s gift bag could be purchased at the first refugee Christmas market held in Estonia.

© Annela Samuel

Before Christmas, the Estonian Refugee Council organized a Christmas market at its new Refugee Center on Liivalaia Street in the capital Tallinn, where refugees and immigrants in Estonia sold their homemade items. It was the first such refugee Christmas market to take place – but the organizers hope that it will now turn into a tradition.

Baklava, brazak, khafeh – these are some of the popular sweets in Middle Eastern cultures which the visitors to the bazaar could purchase to put into Santa’s gift bag. The selection of sweets at the market was offered, for example, by Nermiin from Syria who runs the café Ali Baba near the central market in Tallinn as well as Shereen, who also fled from Syria to Estonia.

“I’ve lived in Estonia for four years, today I’m in the market with my son Omar, who is in fourth grade and helps me as a cashier,” says Shereen, whose 12 year old son admits in Estonian that he is not really a big fan of sweets himself.

While living in Estonia, Shereen has offered her sweets for sale with her husband through their catering company, Damascusfood, and is now working on a new similar initiative at the Estonian Refugee Council, Here & Sääl.

A refugee social enterprise Here & Sääl has already served snacks made by Shereen at several events and catering for refugees can be ordered for any public event. In addition, Here & Sääl hosts Arabic language classes, dance classes and other exciting events for expatriates from other cultures to Estonia.

At the Christmas bazaar, Here & Sääl offered to test different Syrian and Lebanese cookies, in order to choose everyone’s favorites for their sweet box.

“It was the idea of ​​Eero Janson, the head of the Estonian Refugee Council, to make a cookie box for our social entrepreneurship with cookies made in the countries where most refugees come from. Today we are testing Syrian cookies,” said refugee market organizer Annela Samuel.

In addition to sweets, handicrafts were available on the market, and refugees from Pakistan made henna drawings, which women in Pakistan love to wear during religious holidays and weddings, on the skin of those interested. Senam from Togo, West Africa, played the drum at the bazaar and traded with wooden carvings, beeswax and colorful blouses from the area.

“I live in Tallinn with my wife. We want to share our story here, show Estonians our crafts and share our culture with the local community,” said Senam.

Under the leadership of Annela Samuel and Mariel Värk from the Estonian Refugee Council, a photo exhibition featuring photographs of refugees on the theme “Freedom” was also opened. Samuel and Värk have the last two years been organizing a photo camp for Estonian and refugee children.

“Last year, participants got a basic understanding of photography and this year they were already better at photography. This year there were also filmmakers at the camp, with whom the young people could film video clips about their future jobs,” said Samuel.