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How Christmas is celebrated in Lebanon

9. December 2019 - Libanon
When we asked our foreign teams in August whether and how Christmas is celebrated in their countries, the Lebanese were the first to respond with photos and a detailed story. This is because Christmas is a very special time in Lebanon - across religious boundaries, people decorate, celebrate, give and eat. Above all, Christmas means community.

When the first fairy lights and glittering stars adorn the streets and shopping markets at the beginning of December, people notice that Christmas is coming. Everywhere is festively decorated, in the cities as well as in private houses. Each region has its own traditions and some even have entire Christmas villages, such as Byblos, Kobayat or the old town of Beirut, where the decorations are particularly festive.

The Christian families set up their cribs to commemorate the birth of Jesus in the stable of Bethlehem and to bring peace to their homes. Ten days before Christmas, the trees are usually festively decorated and shine in festive splendour.

"Christmas is my favorite time of the year - with all the lights, songs, good food and many happy people. I'm a real Christmas fan," says Lina Al Ayoubi, who is documenting and evaluating the projects for arche noVa in Lebanon. Lina herself is a Muslima, but Christmas is a matter of course for her and her family.

The Lebanese flag

"Every Christmas we visit our Christian friends in Beirut. We decorate the tree and listen to Christmas carols, cook together and look forward to the feast. On Christmas day we usually drive to the mountains and walk in the snow or visit one of the famous Christmas villages".

Lina Al Ayoubi - Muslim Lebanese

Her colleague Michel Aboud, who works as a site manager and driver on arche noVa projects, lives in Kobayat. The settlement in the north of Lebanon is considered one of the most famous Christmas villages in the region. During the holidays Santa Claus - who is called Papa Noel or Santa Claus here - travels through the streets on a driving sledge or in a bright red truck and people dress up in Christmas costumes. The atmosphere is exuberant, as the photos sent by Michel show.

Michel Aboud with his family

"For me, Christmas is a family feast. We remember the birth of Jesus and share the joy of it with others. We celebrate with children and grandchildren in a large group, we sing, pray and have a good time together. Christmas is also a time to give something back to the community, especially for old and poor people".

Michel Aboud - Christian Lebanese

Christmas itself begins in Kobayat on 24 December with the appearance of Santa Claus, who has a bag full of sweets and gifts with him. When all the church bells start ringing at 11 pm, the Holy Night begins. People go to midnight mass and look forward to the next day.

On December 25th, the holiday begins at 10 a.m. with a service that traditionally ends with people wanting peace - for themselves, their families and their homeland Lebanon. Also on Christmas Day, people remember the deceased family members who cannot be there this year.

The classical celebrations then start with the feast after church. The delicacies on the table show the cultural diversity of Lebanon. There is Kebbeh Pie, a meat dish served with warm yoghurt sauce that symbolizes the snow. Turkey and chicken with spicy nut rice, tabouleh, hors d'oeuvres with humus, beetroot and Tahini salad. The crowning glory of every Christmas dinner is the Buche de Noel - a Lebanese chocolate biscuit roll that is only available at Christmas. Sometimes they also serve Meghli, a sweet rice pudding seasoned with anise and cinnamon, traditionally prepared to welcome a newborn baby. At Christmas there is Meghli in memory of the Christ child.

After the meal the gifts are distributed under the tree and Christmas carols are sung. Besides Jingle Bells and Petit Papa Noel there are also Arabic songs like the famous Laylit Eid of Fairouz.

"Christmas is a very special time in Lebanon, a holy month that all Lebanese enjoy and look forward to every year," says Lina. Well then, happy holidays!