With Christmas now upon us, it is interesting to see how everybody is getting ready for the holiday, and the little differences that make Christmas a unique experience in different cultures all around the world
Lebanon is no different, and it should come as no surprise that the Lebanese, famously sociable people, would throw themselves into the season of cheer and goodwill. Not to mention Lebanon’s proximity to Bethlehem!
Actually Christmas is a huge deal in Lebanon: lights, Christmas trees and nativity scenes are common sights throughout the country during December, and family and friends visit each other to eat, drink, and celebrate the festivities.
Like any other country or culture, Lebanon has certain customs and traditions that make a Lebanese Christmas truly memorable and unique.
In Lebanon, Father Christmas is known as Baba Noël, with ‘baba’ being the Lebanese-Arabic word for father, and ‘Noël’ being the French word for Christmas. This is a perfect example of the mix of cultures that can be found in Lebanon.
The nativity crib
Although the Christmas tree is growing in popularity in Lebanon, it is still the nativity crib that is the true symbol of Christmas for many Christians in the country, thought to bring good luck and blessings to the home.
Unlike most English nativity scenes, Lebanese nativity cribs often feature a cave rather than a stable. This is because, although the popular version of the story is that Jesus was born in a stable, there are many who believe the cave is the correct place of his birth.
In the run up to Christmas, people begin to grow chickpeas, lentils, grains and other sprouting beans and seeds in bundles of cotton wool. On Christmas, these plants and shoots are taken and used to decorate the nativity crib as shrubbery, symbolising the birth of Jesus and celebrating life during winter.
Lebanese Christmas food
Christmas often begins early in the morning, with friends and relatives meeting for coffee liquors and sweet pastries.
Lebanese Christmases are known for their extravagant feasts. As families and friends gather for the big meal, the table is soon covered in a wide variety of different dishes, including the Kebbeh pie, a traditional Lebanese dish.
Other dishes usually served at Christmas include mezze dishes with hummus, chicken with rice and lamb roti.
The dessert you are most likely to be served at a Lebanese Christmas is the Bûche de Noël, a Christmas cake shaped like a log that originates in France.
As the day draws to a close and night begins, people gather around large bonfires, often in the centres of towns, where communities sing dance and share the festive spirit.
Speaking of dancing, the traditional Lebanese dance, the Dabke, is performed at Christmas. Dabke is a type of line and circle dance performed by both men and women, often accompanied by singing and music.
The Arabic version of Merry Christmas is “Eid Milad Majid” which translates to “Glorious Birth Feast.”