On our Christmas journey around the world, we leave Christmas in Latvia and head south-south-west for 2,698km to Lebanon.
Bordered by Syria to the north and Israel to the South, Lebanon is located in the Middle East on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. A small country covering just 10,452 square km with a population of just under 7 million, it is estimated that between 8 and 14 million Lebanese people live outside of the country, spreading its culture around the world.
Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon, is one of the oldest cities in the world. The city has been rebuilt 7 times in its 5,000 year history.
Despite its location in the Middle East, Lebanon doesn't have any dessert - the only country in the region without one.
So, how do they celebrate Christmas in Lebanon?
Christmas is celebrated on 25th December in Lebanon.
35% of the population are Maronite Catholic but the majority of the Lebanese people (around 61%) are Muslim.
A Nativity crib (manger scene) is more popular than a Christmas tree. It is usually based around a cave rather than a stable, and decorated by sprouted seeds such as chickpeas, lentils and wheat, which is grown on damp cotton wool for weeks prior to Christmas. In the capital city, there are western commercial decorations such as Christmas lights, poinsettia flowers, holly and big community Christmas trees (these are quite controversial as some people think it’s too commercialised).
The Nativity scene is a focus for prayer for people in the household. Many people will go to a Midnight Mass. In Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, Christmas parties are held in quite a few hotels and many people – religious as well as non-religious – will attend. Dabkeh is a traditional dance practised at Christmas Time where people join hands to form a circle and stamp their feet to traditional percussion music. Gift giving has become very popular and some people have adopted a belief in Baba Noël (Father Christmas). A member of the family may dress up as Santa while children gather for presents.
Sugared almonds and strong coffee are often shared when going round to someone’s house. The main Christmas meal is eaten either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day depending on the family’s preferences and consists of dishes such as; kebbeh pie (made of minced meat and burghul) with warm yoghurt sauce, turkey, chicken, spiced nutty rice, beet and tahini salad, lamb rotis, etc. There is also traditional meghli which is rice flour, anise and caraway pudding for dessert.
Our next Christmas destination looks at Christmas celebrations in Lithuania.