Christmas in Lebanon
Updated: Dec 8, 2019
A Brief History
Lebanon has a long and rich history. Home to one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world--Byblos. The area now known as Lebanon was once a part of Northern Canaan; the inhabitants of this region were ancestors of the Phoenicians.The nations in this part of the Levant were maritime cultures. They sailed all across the Mediterranean establishing trading posts.The Phoenicians are believed to be the inventors of the 24-letter alphabet from which most modern alphabets are derived.
In 539 BC, the region was conquered by the Persian Cyrus the Great. During this time, the Persians forced some of the Phoenicians to move to Carthage.The Persians ruled the region for two centuries until Alexander the Great sacked and burned Tyre, which was one of the Phoenicians' most prominent cities. After Alexander's death the area came under control of the Seleucid Empire. Christianity was introduced to the coastal area of Lebanon during the 1st century from Galilee. In 64 BC, the country came under Roman Empire rule.During this time, Lebanon became a center for Christianity. During the 4th century Lebanon was incorporated into the Christian Byzantine Empire.
Although Arabs conquered the region during the 7th century and brought Islam, Christianity still survived among the adherents of a monastic group called The Maronites. At the turn of the 11th century a group called the Druze emerged. The Druze are one of the smallest religious sects in the world. This faith system is a mixture of beliefs drawn from Islam, Christianity, Gnosticism and Greek philosophy. There are only about 1.5 million adherents in the world, with most living in Lebanon where they make up 5% of the population. At the end of the 11th century the Crusades began, initiated by Latin Christians of French origin in an attempt to reclaim lost Roman territories in the region. The ottoman Turks took control of Lebanon in the late 13th century, as fervor and support for the Crusades from European powers fizzled out. Thus, Lebanon became part of the Ottoman Empire. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following the end of WWI, Lebanon came under French rule in 1920. In September 1926, Lebanon became a democratic republic with a parliamentary government. Lebanon became a sovereign country in 1943. However, Lebanon's history since independence has been one marked by alternating periods of civil war, peace, prosperity and violence. Civil war broke out in 1975 between Christians, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), the Druze and Muslim Militia. In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon because the PLO had launched attacks on Israel from Lebanon. Italian, US and French forces intervened but were withdrawn in 1984 after a devastating bombing attack on them in Beirut in 1983.
When the war finally came to an end in 1990, there had been great loss of life and property, devastating the country's economy. There were several elections during the time after the war. Israel finally withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. Just five years later, the Cedar Revolution began, caused by the assassination of the prime minister of Lebanon by Syria.This led to many demonstrations and demands that Syrian Troops leave the country.Syrian troops were removed in April. By 2006, Lebanon was embroiled in a 34-day war with Israel. In 2012 the Syrian Civil War led to hundreds of thousands of refugees flowing into Lebanon.By 2016 the Lebanese government estimates 1.5 million Syrian refugees were living in Lebanon. To provide funds to support Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese citizens, the government signed the Lebanon compact.
Lebanon is 41% Christian-- the largest population of Christians in the Middle East. It is also the only Arab nation that promotes religious freedom, legally allowing for conversion. Despite the turbulent history stemming from religious differences, Christmas is celebrated by everyone.
Although there are Christmas trees and decorations, the crèche is the focus of Christmas. Fourteen days before Christmas, damp cotton wool is beneath the nativity is sown with chickpeas, lentil, broad beans, oat and wheat seeds. By Christmas day they have sprouted and grown to several inches high. For some families, the nativity will serve as a family alter for prayer time.
A traditional dance called the dabke is performed at weddings and other joyous occasions.Therefore it is a regular part of a joyous Christmas celebration. Dabke is a native a Levantine folk dance popular in not only Lebanon, but Syria, Iraq and Jordan. Dabke is a line dance -- people hold hand in a circle and stamp their feet to native tunes and a percussion instrument called a darbouka.
The Christmas feast may be eaten on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day depending on the family. It will consist of kibbeh pie (Lebanon’s national dish made of minced meat and burghul), often served with a warm yogurt sauce, turkey or chicken with spiced rice, tabouleh, mezze plates of hummus and beet and tahini salad and lamb rotis. Thanks to French influence, dessert will be a buche de noel—a rolled cake shaped like a log. The traditional meghli (rice flour, anise and caraway pudding) will be served as well. This dessert is associated with the celebration of newborns so it is fitting for the birth of Christ. Sugared almonds with a strong cup of coffee is often served to guests and visiting neighbors.
Santa Claus is called Baba Noël or Papa Noël. In Lebanon, Baba comes through the front door and greets children in person. Also, unlike the western version of Santa, Baba is concerned more about poor and needy children than ‘good’ ones.
“Eid Milad Majid” is Arabic for a “Glorious Birth” to which you may reply “kul am wa enta bi- khair” which means “may every year find you in good health” Alternatively, a simple Joyeux Noel will also suffice.
Lebanon has the highest percentage of Christians in the Middle East (41%). Lebanon is unique as the only Arab nation that promotes religious freedom and legally allows conversion. Lebanon has taken in one million Syrian and Palestinian refugees, who now make up about 30% of the population. This has caused some economic strain for the country. However, by reaching out to provide for the physical needs of refugees, such as food, clothing, blankets and education, the Church is seizing opportunities to meet not only the physical, but spiritual needs of these hurting people. Both the size and influence of the Church in Lebanon has made it a unique and strategic center for Christian ministry throughout the entire Middle East.
Pray for the refugees that have suffered so much from the recent wars in the Middle East.
Pray for the preservation of religious freedom.
Pray for the government as they attempt to provide for and love their neighbor by admitting one million hurting people fleeing the ravages of war.
Pray for healing and forgiveness for those deeply wounded by the tragedy of war.