Christmas Traditions in Lebanon

Meelad Majeed!

Most of the countries of the Arab world have special traditions related to Christmas. Some of them are in common with those of the Western world but there are some unique differences as well. For example, for many Christians, Christmas is preceded by a fasting period of 40 days. Another tradition is the ringing of huge church bells on Christmas Eve, to announce the birth of Christ.

Most homes in the Middle East try to raise plants in small dishes, at least 3 weeks before Christmas. The living plants remind of the living Lord. These plants are grown in dishes into which they put a thin layer of cotton instead of soil. Different kinds of seeds like wheat, lentils, beans, chickpeas and other fast growing seeds are placed on the cotton.

These plants, which usually grow to a height of about 17 cm during this time, are usually placed under the Christmas tree, at the entrance of the Christmas cave, or in different corners of the house, where they will be kept until the Christmas tree is taken down.

Food also plays a unique part of the Christmas celebration. There is a tradition of preparing a special type of pudding whenever a child is born into a family at this time of year, particularly if it is a boy. This kind of pudding is called Mughly. It is made up of rice flour, caraway, sugar and other spices, put into small plates. It is topped with coconut, raisins, peanuts, crushed almonds, and walnuts. This pudding is offered to the members of the family as well as to the visitors who come to the house visiting during the season.

In Lebanese villages large bonfires are made in the town centers where everyone gathers in a circle around the fire to sing songs and tell stories. This is a chance to renew friendships and to reconcile with one another for any misunderstanding during the year.

Special dances called Dabkeh are performed during the Christmas season. Young men and women hold hands in semi-circles dancing together to special music. The dances are made up of artistic footwork that harmonizes with the sound of the music. The dancers wear special colorful clothes and head covers or “tambourines.”