New Year in the Country of Perpetual Conflicts
New Year Eve Celebrations in Lebanon? Well, yes! And it is done in splendor!
There is this strange characteristic to the Lebanese nation that has always fascinated me; strange to the world, normal to our people, yet puzzling to the observers and analysts. All wonder at how this tiny country has prevailed through the millenniums of its existence.
Here is the thing: Be it war or political mess, disastrous economy or joblessness, or all combined, could never deter the nation to enjoy what they have… or is left to them. And HamdAllah (praise God) is always uttered in gratefulness, even when answering to the greeting question “How are you?” or “How is the family?”
See, Lebanon might be a country of perpetual conflicts; an all-time arena to the war games of others… Lebanese people might deem normally abnormal to go on with their life in the long absence of a ruling president, and live with, and under, a broken system…
And yet, they are a nation of stubborn hope and optimism, stepping over the chaos to keep walking their daily life. They are relentless to hang on to their culture, unremitting to prevail, and assiduous in maintaining their traditional celebrations, enjoying their life to the most possible. If I am to summarize it all, I would not hesitate in stating: Strong Faith, Stubborn Optimism, and Fearless Determination.
And that is the reason why Lebanon has prevailed, against all odds, through the millenniums of its existence.
Land of my ancestors,
Home of the fearless,
so small in size,
so rich in controversial fascination,
Unique indeed in your kind,
You have earned my admiration!
On the ground, it materializes like this:
New Year and Christmas celebrations compete, so to speak, in splendor and festivities. At a certain point, they merge as if in continuation. Nationwide, all and everything seem to shiver with joy, expectation, cheerfulness, festive lights, and shopping sprees. The sharing of warm wishes start days before and continue throughout.
Events and night-clubs are booked weeks in advance. Restaurants, of all specialties, will be filled during the New Year Eve and Day. With some exceptions, most require reservations ahead of time, especially for the 31st of December.
Menus are always festive and rich. Yet, no one will spare any dish or dessert. They won’t certainly whine about the over intake of calories. “Today we celebrate, tomorrow we diet.” It is their common resolution as they love to fully enjoy their main celebrations.
Chocolate and pastry stores start to overcrowd with clients as early as December 18th. Ah, I love these stores! So appealing with their festive treats and beautifully decorated arrangements of Chocolates, Glazed Chestnuts, Marzipan, and Sugar-Coated Almonds!
Let me tell you something. Go ahead and make a tour at these treats’ stores during this season, and observe the buyers… They will be hooked to the display of pastries of all sizes, colors and prices while they try hard to decide which to buy. Yes, they are as attractively and deliciously mesmerizing!
Unlike most countries, the Lebanese market remains open during New Year festivities, and bustles with shoppers and diners. Young and not-so-young crowd populate the outdoors at nights. Winter is no impediment since Lebanon is blessed with a clement climate. The night sky will be sparkling up with fireworks. From one extremity to another, our Mediterranean coast will keep shining with LED lights spreading, so to speak, to the cities and towns up the hills and the mountains.
Like in all other countries, New Year Eve is the main celebration, often glamorous. However, next day will be also celebrated. Same like on Christmas day, families and friends will gather for their first lunch of the year . The sprightliness of the day is usually a festive menu; home cooked or catered in.
As a significant indication: Just in Beirut and its surrounding cities, there are over 240 New Year Eve events this year (2015-2016).
Bear in mind that this is no small figure for a small country of 10,452 km² with its regions on both frontiers on war alert, and the existing dramatic number of 1.5 million Syrians refugees.
These events are of neither small fees. Consider the current figure of US$75 to US$1000 per person, and say “Oh!”. I did 🙂
According to www.casinokompassi.com, night-clubs will be filled till sunrise. Dinner Galas will be entertained with famous local singers. Major musical live shows, by local or international bands or singers, will be held throughout the country. The most glamorous ones are often at some of Lebanon landmarks, like the Casino du Liban.
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Stepping into the New Year
Traditionally, many start their New Year with a game of luck of their choice right after midnight; a lotto draw or a simple card game called Sab’ah (Seven). Some, and not few, will take bigger risks at gambling tables.
Superstition or tradition, it doesn’t matter other than the assumption that the first hours after midnight would reveal how lucky, or unlucky, will be your coming 365 days. 🙂
More teasingly than seriously, it is said that starting the first day of the year with a dessert will sweeten one’s coming year.
So yes, mind you, many restaurants and pastry stores of Lebanese specialty welcome guests, at dawn, to serve them these desserts! 🙂 The favorite of many for that morning sweetening would be the Sahlab, which is a hot creamy-liquid dessert made of sweetened milk, corn flour, rosewater, and mastic, and sharpened with an aromatic fine spice called Mahlab.
It is consumed with crunchy sesame Kaaks.
New Year Eve: What’s in the Menu?
New Year Eve menus varies in quantities, styles and themes. While detailing could be unnecessary long here, I can still brief it for you as follows:
- For sitting dinners that night, menus are usually composed of 3 to 6 courses,
- Buffet dinners, which have become very popular in Lebanon, are composed of ten times more dishes than the sitting ones.
As an indication only, a typical 3-course is served as follows:
- Course 1 would be a series of Cold Mezza: Tabbouleh, Hummus, Mtabal, Baba Ghannouj, Arugula (Rocca) Salad, Veggie Stuffed Grape Leaves, Fattayer Spinach….
- Course 2 would be a selection of hot Mezza: Soujouk, Cheese Rakakat (rolls), Sambousek Meat, Mekanek, Kibbeh, Spicy Potatoes, Chicken wings… Frog legs with lemon garlic could be included.
- Course 3 is always a festive main dish, like Stuffed Lamb with rice, Stuffed Turkey, Samke Harra, Mixed Grill of Kafta, Taouk, Shawarma, and Kastaletta…
- Desserts: A large platter of fresh Fruits is always on the table after the meal, along with one or two kinds of Lebanese pastry, such as Layali Loubnan, Mafroukeh, Kanefeh, Assorted Baklawa, and/or Assorted French Pastries.
Fancier dinner galas would go for more international menus, starting with caviar, salmon and cold cuts, passing by a gourmet meal, and ending with an extravagant dessert, such as a large selection of multinational pastries, and/or a Chocolate fountain sided by strawberries to dip in and delight on.
Drinks vary by type of menus and… prices: Wine, Whiskey or Arak. However, the Champagne will reign at midnight, as bottles will be popping up right after the countdown. Cheers!
To my lovely readers, I wish you a splendid New Year’s celebration, and plenty of happiness, peace, laughs, and good food throughout 2016!
Happy New Year!
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