Lebanon, Christmas in

Lebanon, Christmas in

Lebanese Christians celebrate Christmas with Christmas trees, outdoor light displays, Christmas carols, special church services, holiday foods, and gift exchanges.

Although no recent, accurate census has been taken, most experts believe that Muslims constitute more than fifty percent of the population of this Middle Eastern nation. The vast majority of those remaining are Christians. Most of these people belong to the Maronite Church or various Orthodox churches. A very small percentage of people adhere to other religions. Strife between Muslims and Christians fueled a civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990. In spite of this recent conflict, in the past several years, when Christmas fell during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, some Muslims honored the eve of Jesus'birth with special gatherings and gift exchanges. Others hung shooting star decorations on the tents where they assembled to celebrate their own festival (see also Star of Bethlehem).

Preparations

Many Eastern Christians, such as the Maronites and the Orthodox, fast for some or all of Advent, a period of spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas time. Eastern Christians fast by avoiding meat, dairy products, fish, and eggs.

As the holiday draws near, numerous Lebanese families buy and decorate Christmas trees. Many Lebanese Christians also construct Nativity scenes to place next to the tree. Housewives prepare for a sumptuous Christmas dinner, some buying a live turkey as early as November in order to ensure a plump, juicy, fresh bird for the Christmas table. Christmas preparations also include shopping trips to buy gifts for family members and friends. Shopping areas take on a festive appearance in many Lebanese towns at Christmas time. Christmas trees glitter with ornaments and strings of electric lights twinkle in the dark but mild winter nights. Images of Papa Noël, or Father Christmas, remind shoppers of their mission. For many people this Lebanese Santa Claus has replaced the camel as Lebanon's traditional Christmas gift bringer. Gifts may also be purchased at church bazaars, which usually feature homemade foods and crafts.

Christmas Eve and Day

People celebrate Christmas Eve by lighting firecrackers, ringing church bells, and shooting guns off into the air (for similar customs, see Shooting in Christmas). Many attend special religious services, such as Midnight Mass. Some churches also hold special concerts featuring Christmas carols on this evening.

Children enjoy a special privilege on Christmas Day. Custom permits them to approach any adult with the cry, "Editi 'aleik," meaning, "You have a gift for me!" In this way they hope to add to the presents they have already received on Christmas morning. Nevertheless, a Lebanese Christmas emphasizes family togetherness over gift giving. Lebanese Christians often go visiting on Christmas Day, paying their respects first to older relatives and then visiting with other family members and friends. Guests are usually offered holiday treats, such as sugared almonds. Dried, sugared fruit is another favorite holiday sweet. Dishes of nuts, seeds, and fresh fruit provide additional snacks. Christmas dinner often features turkey or chicken, but people also enjoy many special pastries at Christmas time. In addition to baklava, a pastry made from phyllo dough, nuts, spices and sugar syrup, many Lebanese prepare knafi, a baked dessert made from cheese, shredded wheat, and sugar syrup.

New Year's Eve and Day

Both Muslim and Christian Lebanese celebrate New Year's Eve on December 31. Some people go out to elegant restaurants and night clubs. Among the more traditionally minded, families visit each other on New Year's Eve, sitting up late to sing, dance, tell jokes and stories, and to play games, especially cards and other games of chance. Superstition hints that these games may reveal one's fortune for the coming year. Fathers sometimes distribute a small sum of money to their children on New Year's Eve. These gifts express their hope to provide well for them in the coming year. Some Lebanese children receive presents on New Year's Day rather than on Christmas.

Epiphany

Lebanese Christians celebrate Epiphany on January 6, a holiday which, for these Eastern Christians, honors the occasion of Jesus' baptism. According to Lebanese folklore, the trees still bow down at midnight on Epiphany eve in honor of this great event. In past times, children who lived in the cold, mountainous regions of Lebanon would venture forth the next morning looking for brush marks in the snow. These disturbances revealed where the crowns of trees had grazed the ground.

Further Reading

Marston, Elsa. Lebanon: New Light in an Ancient Land. New York: Dillon Press, 1994. Sheehan, Sean. Lebanon. Cultures of the World. Tarrytown, N.Y.: Marshall Cavendish, 1997. Walker, Richard Kennedy. Lebanon: A Portrait of the Country Through ItsFestivals and Traditions. Danbury, Conn.: Grolier Education, 1999.

Web Site

An article titled "Lahhoud Attends Christmas Mass at Bkirki," published in Beirut, Lebanon, on December 26, 1998, posted on news@Lebanon.com:
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