The Handmade Nativity Scene In Maria-Adona’s Home
I have been blessed to celebrate quite a few Christmases in Canada with my dear friend Maria-Adona. Being born in Lebanon into the Maronite Catholic Christian faith and then immigrating with her family to Canada almost 16 years ago, the one constant has always been her faith with the traditions of her upbringing. (Did you know that 35% of the Lebanese population worship within the Christian Maronite Catholic Church?) Aramaic (Jesus’s spoken language) is still used by the Maronites in various hymns and parts of the Mass, especially at the Consecration. Lebanon is the only country in the Middle East of which the head of state is a Christian. Christmas is a joyfully anticipated affair every year in both Maria-Adona’s family here in Canada and in Lebanon.
The celebrations start on December 4 on Eid il-Burbara Saint Barbara’s Day – the feast day of Saint Barbara, the holiday is celebrated by Christians in Lebanon and throughout the Middle East. Saint Barbara was born in the middle of the 3rd century in present day Lebanon or Turkey, she was the daughter of a rich pagan and according to legend, Saint Barbara witnessed a miracle while fleeing from her father – who had kept her locked up in a tower. She ran through a freshly planted wheat field, which grew instantly to cover her track. Middle Eastern Christians recreate this miracle symbolically by planting different seeds and grains – wheat, barley, lentils, beans, chick peas in soaked cotton wool. On Christmas, shoots from the seeds planted on St. Barbara’s Day are used to decorate the nativity scene.
Maria-Adona’s family both here in Canada and in Lebanon build manger scenes in their homes called a Nativity Crib, the crib is more popular than a Christmas Tree. Traditionally the scene to be based around a cave rather than a stable and it’s decorated with the sprouted seeds such as chickpeas, broad-beans, lentils, oats and wheat that have been grown from Saint Barbara celebrations, the crib scene then becomes a focus for the prayer of people in the house.
Christmas Eve is the time when families gather together over dinner at the Grand parents house or the older member in the family. Momentarily before the meal commences, the young and old sit at the table, join hands and recite a small prayer for the Lord’s wellbeing. The Lebanese Christmas dinner is a traditional meal consists of Tabbouleh, mezza plates of hummus, baba -ghannouj, stuffed grapes leaves, Kebbeh Nayeh – Lebanon’s national dish made from minced meat, burghul & spices, chicken and turkey with spiced rice, lamb rotis, and more. For desert, the Buche de Noel – a rolled holiday log borrowed from French tradition is prepared along with traditional Meghli Pudding – rice flour, anise, and caraway pudding.
Midnight Mass is largely attended across various churches in Lebanon. Beirut, the capital city, is glamorously decorated with lights, Christmas trees, hollies and poinsettias. Christmas is celebrated with friends, family and lots of merriment during this joyous time families visit each other’s home, drink liquor or traditional coffee along with a delectable platters of fresh fruit, chickpeas and dates.
Since the Lebanese are also partially French, their Santa Claus is known as Papa Noël – known for bringing presents, Papa Noël is the visitor who children eagerly wait for every year during Christmas. Papa Noel is also known for his kindness and generosity to the needy and the impoverished. On the Eve of Christmas, Papa Noël comes on his sleigh and leaves presents for children while they are asleep, he is also believed to leave nuts, and candy delights near fireplaces and under the Christmas tree.
On Christmas morning, families go to Mass mid morning, then visit relatives, close friends and neighbours. The unique thing is it’s the young who visit the older first. When people visit each other houses over the Christmas period, sugared almonds are offered with strong sweet liquor shot then the traditional coffee is the last. After lunch, families relax, or continue visiting or receiving relatives and friends. In the evening, friends and family gather out inside the houses with big backyards, and light a bonfire or inside around the fire to recite tales of ancestors and sing folk songs. The table is always laid with sweet liquor, traditional coffee, dried fruit platters and sugared nuts as part of the on going Christmas feast.
The ‘Dabkeh’ is the traditional dance that is performed during Christmas time, this form of dance while dressed in flamboyant colours in both – males and females conjoining hands and dancing around in one big circle or semi-circles. Native tunes and the ‘Darbouka’ – the traditional percussion instrument are played, and these dances are usually choreographed well in advanced.
In Lebanon most people speak a dialect that is a mix of Aramaic, Arabic & French. So Happy/Merry Christmas is Eid Milad Majid (عيد ميلاد مجيد) which means ‘Glorious Birth Feast’ or you could say Kil sini wa enta bi-khair which means ‘may every year find you in good health’. Where Maria-Adona grew up , like most of Lebanese cities French is also spoken so you could wish people Joyeux Noël!
Maria-Adona’s Meghli Pudding
1 Cup Of Rice Flour
10 Cups Of Water
2 1/2 Cups Of Sugar
2 Tablespoons Of Grounded Caraway Seeds
2 Tablespoons Of Cinnamon
2 Tablespoons Of Grounded Anis Seeds
1 Cup Of Unsweetened Shredded Coconut
1 Cup Of Walnuts
1 Cup Of Raw Almonds Peeled And Soaked In Cold Water
1 Cup Of Raw Pistachios
1 Cup Of Pine Nuts
1 Cup Of Golden Raisins
Mix the rice,sugar and spices in a cooking pot.
Add the water, mix very well and place on the stove on medium heat until it boils then decrease the heat to low and stir very well with a wooden spoon.
Keep on stirring for about 45 minutes at least or until you see the mixture’s consistency very fine.
Then remove from heat and immediately pour in small cups or one big serving plate.
Wait until it cools, then decorate the plate with the nuts and raisins then sprinkle the shredded coconut on top.
Or sprinkle the shredded coconut first ,then decorate what the nuts & raisins.
Sahtein – Which Means With Good Health