By Narelle Coulter
THE giving of gifts is not a traditional part of Christmas celebrations in South Sudan.
However, Pakenham Uniting Church and Target are making sure children of Sudanese heritage whose families have settled in Cardinia shire will get a gift this festive season.
The Reverend Ann Simons urged the Pakenham community to get behind the 25th Target Uniting Care Christmas Appeal.
The appeal collects gifts and money for distribution through the Uniting Care Connections.
“We give gifts from the church,” Reverend Simons said.
“There is not a culture of gift giving within Sudanese families. They are not so much focused on the gifts they get, it’s more about community, food, hospitality and sharing of meals.
“Each child will get a gift and we support the parents with gift cards so they can purchase appropriate and culturally sensitive items to celebrate Christmas their way.
“It’s empowering and enabling for people to choose how people spend their money at Christmas.”
Reverend Simons said most families spent their gift cards on food.
Members of the Sudanese community, who are predominately Christian, spend up to a fortnight marking the birth of Jesus through song, dance and feasting.
Community liaison officer Riak Kiir said the sharing of food and hosting family and friends was a crucial part of Christmas celebrations.
At his Pakenham home, Mr Kiir expects to host up to 30 friends and relatives. He and his family will also visit friends and relatives in the Sudanese community as far afield as Werribee and Melton.
“We sit and share food, moving from house to house,” he said.
Reverend Simons hopes that more than 50 gifts will be collected through the appeal.
The church will host a traditional Christmas meal for its Pakenham congregation during which the presents and gift cards will be handed out.
Reverend Simons said the number of people regularly worshipping at Pakenham Uniting Church has skyrocketed with the influx of Sudanese refugees into Cardinia shire.
“We share some of our Western traditions including a Christmas meal. We have turkey and pudding and each child gets a gift and we sing carols,” she said.
“Because we want them to feel they belong we don’t want to impose Western cultural traditions but that the two sit comfortably beside each other.”
Gifts can be donated at Target Pakenham or shoppers can purchase a token at the checkout, the money from which is pooled and used to purchase gift cards.