Jolly, unique, interactive…
There is something special in the way the Lebanese nation celebrates Christmas.
Celebrating Christmas the Lebanese way carries a particular “trademark”. You will come to know the reason of my statement once you read me here.
What’s in your Christmas menu?
Two days ago, I posted the question to all my Lebanese friends on FB. I was interested to know how traditional our families are still – or not – with their Christmas lunch celebration. The answers overall surprised me, I must say. Hence, an introductory on Christmas in Lebanon becomes necessary.
Unlike all countries in the regions, Lebanon celebrates Christmas nationwide and in big style. In all my travels, I haven’t seen yet a country where the song “It is the season to be jolly” applies better than in Lebanon!
Jolliness is everywhere you go. No, it is not an exaggeration. Highways are illuminated for kilometers with Christmas lights and lighten decorations. Malls wear impressive Christmas attires, inside and outside. Stores team up brightly with their window displays that turn into special attractions to all. Churches lighten up their exterior architecture. Impressive purely-religious nativities are set up inside.
Their doors remain widely opened to both devotees and visitors attracted in by the diffusing light of peace. Business centers are not exempt. They also take part in the festivities. Most offices, regardless of their “seriousness”, have their different ways of decorating for Christmas. Towns and cities dress up beautifully for the occasion very early in December. Christmas trees, in all sizes and colors, are seen everywhere, even in cities where Christians are a minority.
If you are lucky enough to visit Lebanon during the Christmas season, you would feel immersed, at all time, in the powerful ambiance of joyful expectation. You may close your eyes for minutes and you would still feel it, almost even smell it in the air.
Beyond the decorated gardens and illuminated residential buildings, you can even see gorgeous home Christmas trees by the windows. Some dear family members of mines decorate their trees differently every year even.
From fancy and elegant to common and ‘’already-seen”, Lebanese enjoyable efforts to celebrate Christmas are so endearing and… impressive.
In my personal opinion, one of the most beautiful occurrences during Christmas is probably that unity in celebration among all religions and denominations in Lebanon. For my Western friends reading me, it might seem weird that I mention this. So, let me explain:
We are a country that thrives and evolves with its controversial constituents of different religions and denominations. Small in size, big in its variety of ideologies, Lebanon stands unique in the world in the loving capability of its people to co-exist, share and exchange among each other.
That fact is the most evident in Christmas time. Muslims, with their different denominations, constitute the majority in our homeland. They do not simply respect this Christian most important celebration of ours, but they also participate in it, at least a commendable number of them.
Some even set up a Christmas tree in their homes. All, without exception, extend their good wishes to their Christian friends and acquaintances. Similar stance is matched by us Christians towards Muslims during their Eid celebration.
Celebrating the 25th
For us, Christmas is certainly the most important time to gather in joy and love. So family-oriented as the culture is, Christmas meals bring most of the extended family, their children and some close friends around a festive table.
Like most Christians around the world, we Lebanese start celebrating on Christmas Eve with the midnight mass. Kids are exceptionally allowed to attend with their parents that holy night. I hold vivid memories of my Christmas childhood which I cherish dearly.
After the midnight mass, it is the rush home to open our Christmas gifts and enjoy delicious Bûche de Noel. My mother, God bless her, used to have plenty of these delicious Christmas cakes to ensure that we had enough for a week, for us and the guests.
Although not a Lebanese cake by origin, the Bûche de Noel is an essential part of our Christmas festivity. It has become as such ever since France introduced it in our culture during its ruling after WWII.
It was inevitably a part of the intensive cultural exchange that occurred during that period, and the close alliance that continued after, among which the impact of countless of French Catholic missionaries who built many of the prosperous schools still existing to-date.
Our Christmas Family Lunch
Christmas family lunch is the most important feast of the season. The family hosting the celebration receives the guests with small glasses of sweet fruit Liquor; cherry or similar fruit-based. Sugar coated almonds are offered with the Liquor and consumed right after.
This treat is special to the Christmas season. It is the most welcoming gesture offered to guests in our homes for days after. Marrons Glacés (glazed chestnut) are often included in the reception by those who can afford it, or spare some extra dollars for the occasion. Very praised during that season, Marrons Glacés are not a cheap treat to buy.
Christmas lunch follows this welcoming rite. From here on, menus and drinks differ from home to home. Most have Roasted Stuffed Turkey as the main piece de resitence on their Christmas table. Many others opt for different festive menus.
I will share with you some of these sample menus. Then, you have those who still prefer the most traditional Lebanese Roasted lamb or chicken; stuffed or with a rich rice on the side.
Needless to say that certain factors affect the choice of whether to go more traditional or more internationally fancy with the family festive menus: the degree of conservatism, the level of personal economy, and the proximity, or not, to the capital and main cities.
A note of warm thanks to my many Lebanese friends who shared their answers with me!
Since the Turkey is not a breed of our region and never was, I believe that this specific festive dish was also one of the many influences of France in our culture. It is called Dinde Farcie de Noel and is richly stuffed with rice, meat, chestnut and nuts, if not more.
To note, we do have a significant French subculture in our Lebanese society. The impact is widely noticeable, yet little admitted, in the refined fashionable lifestyle, in a variety of our food, and in the socialization language. That is to just name the most relevant.
Siding our Christmas Turkey – or Lamb or Chicken – the Tabbouleh usually reigns. However, different kind of salads could substitute it as per the desire of the family. A side-dish of potatoes takes its place at the table: Smashed in purée, or roasted with vegetables, or gratiné, or fried with cilantro and garlic, and so on.
Again, the side-dishes are usually optional in choices and depend on the family tradition or desire. And let us not forget the starters! They could be cold meat cuts, salmon, caviar or a variety of mezza plates. (Visit my Suggestions of Christmas Menus for ideas).
Toasting to Christmas!
Wine is served during the meal, and we do have excellent, locally produced, wines in the country, I tell you! Whisky, or Scotch on the rocks, is a favorite drink of Lebanese men, especially during social meals. Christmas is no exception.
However, our famous Lebanese Arak could be the main choice of drink when the stuffed lamb is on the menu. That also depends on the region where many opt to serve and enjoy this traditional strong drink to celebrate this special annual occasion.
Now, let me ask you! What is in your Christmas menu?
You are most welcome to share your menu with us here! However, if you haven’t decided yet, or are still looking, I invite you to get inspired from my list of several Christmas menus which I have specially compiled for you. Go ahead, take a look!
My suggested Christmas Menus: Delightful 2015 Christmas Menus