Skip to navigationSkip to content

The true meaning of Christmas, in photos

Photo by Alessandro Penso
A mother and child wrapped in an emergency blanket after disembarking on the beach of Kayia, on the north of the Greek island of Lesvos.
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Senior reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

The story of Christmas is also the story of a Middle Eastern family seeking refuge, as many have pointed out.

Celebrations of Christ’s birth are only a day away, and for weeks the world’s 2.2 billion Christians have been setting out nativity scenes of animals and visitors crowded around an infant Jesus. The son of God was born in a stable, according to the Bible, because his pregnant mother, a foreigner, had been turned away from shelter in Bethlehem.

It’s a particularly contemporary story, considering how many other mothers and children find themselves in similar straits this year. In 2015, more than 1 million refugees and migrants landed at the edges of Europe according to the International Organization for Migration. This year’s news photos, from beaches in Greece and Italy to the borders of Slovenia and Hungary, reveal a poignant struggle to survive against the odds, and a few even seem to evoke the same iconic story being honored this time of year.

In one, a mother with no shelter holds her child in a thermal blanket, shining with light. In another, a young man lies exhausted after swimming to lighten a foundering boat. No need to genuflect to these tableaux vivants; such scenes of suffering happen every day. But this week, as many in the West celebrate their Christian roots, perhaps we should pay closer attention to our instincts for compassion and hospitality. As the grown-up Jesus says in Matthew: ”Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Photo by Daniel Etter
Two Iraqi sisters wait for a train towards the border with Croatia at the train station in Presevo, Serbia
REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
Four-year-old Rashida from Kobani, Syria.
REUTERS/Fotis Plegas G
A migrant woman carries her child after arriving at a rocky beach on the Greek island of Lesbos.
Reuters/Rodi Said
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq.
Photo by Alessandro Penso
A group of Syrians help a fellow Syrian who was taken ill after he swam to reach the shore of the Greek island of Lesvos.
Photo by Alessandro Penso
38-year old Ama Haider together with her 22-year old son Khalid Hamed in Kos, Greece.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.