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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: You Have Made it Like Home

Looking Back

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Friday February 4 2022

Looking Back: Christmas for Refugees

In late 1956, Scotland became home to thousands of refugees fleeing the  Soviet crackdown following the Hungarian Revolution.
In February the following year, Life and Work published this thank you letter from one group of refugees to a church which put on a Christmas celebration for them.

"You have made it like Home" say Hungarian Refugees in Scotland.

AT Middleton Camp, near Dalkeith, 250 Hungarians arrived just before Christmas. What would Christmas be like in a strange land, with nothing to “make Christmas”?

A neighbouring congregation* saw to it. And this is the letter they received, written by one of the Hungarians on behalf of all.

252 Hungarian refugees have been dreading the approaching Christmas. Children and adults, men and women were afraid of the great festival of Christendom: that this great feast, which used to bring peace and unity of families, would bring sorrow and tears, because everyone of us has left somebody at home, in far Hungary.

Husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, were afraid of thinking of their beloved, whom they were compelled to leave at home, at the mercy of oppressors, of intruders, in whom doesn’t move the spirit of the world’s unity on this day, the Saviour’s birth, or the words of the angel: “Peace to the goodwilling mankind.”

We are far away from our home, our country; we are poor and the families had not the means to buy gifts, presents, toys, sweets for their children or for each other.

We haven’t been sure either if it means the same in Scotland, what it used to mean in Hungary: Christmas Day.

But then-

Then… Christmas Eve arrived. Just peeping out of the windows of our dormitories, we saw people busily bringing mysterious boxes and sacks to our Assembly Hall, where a few of our children were trying to set up a fir to act as a Christmas tree; to put on it a few candles and some paper decorations, just to have a feeling that we yet have a bit of Hungary with us: the spirit of Christmas.

At 4 o’clock the tiny bell before the Assembly Hall began to ring. Everybody came with the children in their arms or leading them by their hands, towards this little bell of Christmas.

In the Hall we solemnly stood before the lowered curtain and listened to the singing of the children’s native Christmas Carol, “Angel came from Heaven to you, shepherds.”

And then the curtain was lifted and we became aware of a beautiful, magnificently decorated Christmas tree, full of sweets and toys and burning candles. And behold! Under the Christmas tree there were enormous quantities of children’s toys, sweets, dolls and little cars, lorries, balls; all never-dreamt-of presents for the children – and the children’s joy meant happiness for the parents.

We felt at once that we are not alone in this country. There were people who were thinking of us and whose heart went out for the poor and the abandoned, who have just begun to realise what they have lost and at the same time what they have won: the kind heart of the people of Scotland: the heart of you all!

We sincerely thank you all!

*Sadly, it isn’t clear which congregation was involved, although in a separate piece it is revealed that Dean Parish Church in Edinburgh had raised £321 for the Hungarian Relief Fund.

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