10 December 2010

A Little Middle Eastern Christmas Cheer

I have an excellent excuse for not blogging the past couple of days; I've been writing. Yes! Real live writing and NOT NaNo editing (that is to come). Yesterday, I got an idea for something (non-fiction, if you can believe that), and off I went, typing between phone calls and writing on a napkin during lunch in my car.

That said, I've been thinking a lot about Middle Eastern Christmas customs this week. Funny, but when I realized my virtual travels would land me in the M.E. for Christmas, I was a bit disappointed. I wanted to be in England for Christmas, or at least the Alps. But my self-imposed trip had me traversing across Pakistan, Afghanistan and into Iran.

More out of compulsion than anything else, I simply typed in "Middle Eastern Christmas" in the search engine and *voila!* I was gifted with a whole mess of interesting sites. And then it hit me: Christmas started in the Middle East. What's more appropriate than a Middle Eastern Christmas? Not only that, but when I was pondering some recipes for this month, it was Hanukkah and THAT'S a Middle Eastern Holiday as well. Serendipitous I must say.

We don't really think of Middle Eastern countries celebrating Christmas but they do. Lebanon especially, but there are Arabic Christians in most M.E. countries that celebrate. Their celebrations aren't as garish as our western traditions and I find them far more endearing.

In Lebanon, about two weeks prior to Christmas, people will plant chickpeas, beans, lentils and wheat grains in cotton wool. The seeds will get watered every day and by Christmas, they have a nice little garden of greens. These shoots will be plucked and used to surround manger scenes.

Friends and family gather around the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. They celebrate with an evening meal and at midnight, the church bells begin to ring. Everyone puts on their new Christmas clothes and they go to church for a midnight service. The children eagerly await Papa Noel to bring their gifts and they hang little red stockings for him to fill with sweets.

Pakistan is a predominately Muslim country and therefore, Christmas is not a national holiday. Those that do celebrate, do so quietly and simply with traditions that vary from town to town. Church services are held on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day called Barha Din or Greatest Day.

There are also Christmas celebrations to be found in Syria, Egypt, and even Iraq. I also read that Bethlehem has 3 Christmas celebrations due to the three different denominational churches in the city and their holiday observance calendars! And get this, The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem sits upon the traditional site of the original manger. Christmas Eve services are held in what's called The Shepherd's Field and then the crowd continues the service inside The Church of the Nativity. Only a small amount of people can attend and it's by invitation only. If you're not one of the lucky invites, however, they set of a large screen outside so you can view the celebration from Manger Square.

Recipes are forthcoming! Have an awesome weekend. Speaking of food, I'm off to Maggiano's in Atlanta this evening for the office Christmas party. Repeat after me: Italian food. YUM.


Christmas in Pakistan
Christmas in Israel

**Some of these sites have music, so keep the speakers low. Unless you like to start your day with blaring organ music**


Brian Miller said...

nice. how cool would it be to be at one of the big celebrations...

Rachel {Inspiration in Italy} said...

This was so interesting! My brother lived in Israel for 3 years and once spent Christmas in Bethlehem. What an experience.

Have a great weekend!

Kittie Howard said...

Hub and I celebrated Christmas in Bethlehem one year. An amazing experience (and verrrrry cold!)

A really intersting post, Jen. If you Google the Coptic Christians in Egypt (as to what centers their Christianity), I think you'll find some good stuff that may possibly work into your WIP. Write on! And have a great weekend.

Meredith said...

Congrats on writing again! And so interesting to hear about holiday customs in the Middle East--that would be such an amazing place to celebrate this time of year!

Kittie Howard said...

Really interesting post, Jen. Hub and I celebrated Christmas in Bethlehem one year. An amazing experience. If you Google what the Coptic Christians believe you might find some good stuff to work into your WIP. Have a great weekend!

The Golden Eagle said...

You're writing again! Hooray!

Those are some interesting traditions! Thanks for the post on Middle East Christmas.

Jennifer said...

Christmas there would probably be a really thrilling experience...