Home to about 12 million Christians and countless holy places that bring history alive, there are several celebrations that make Christmas in the Middle East a very special one.
1) Places where history is alive. The cradle of civilizations and the birth place of Jesus, the Middle East has the power no other place has to revive Christian history. From Jesus’s city of birth, Bethlehem, to the places where the holy family took refuge in Egypt, the Christmas spirit comes alive.
2) Sprouted seeds in Lebanon. A beautiful Lebanese tradition involves people sowing seeds of chickpeas, beans, wheat grains or lentils in cotton wool 14 days before Christmas day. When Christmas day arrives, the plants have reached six or more inches high and are used to fill the nativity scene and other parts of the home.
3) Three ceremonies, all in one. In Bethlehem, Christmas Eve is celebrated not one but three times by Protestant, Catholic, Syrian, Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches. Sometimes, the three Christmas Eve services take place simultaneously in different parts of the Church of St Catherine of Alexandria, in three different languages.
4) No Christmas without a cake. One of the most important traditions in Jordan involves baking a traditional cake, which begins to be prepared at the beginning of the month by soaking dried fruits in brandy, rum and cognac. Later, flour, eggs and baking powder are added and it is baked.
5) Forget Santa Claus and Pére Noel: Presents in Syria are brought by a camel. Children in Syria traditionally wait until New Year’s Day to receive their presents, which are believed to be brought by the youngest camel in the caravan that brought the Three Wise Men to attend the birth of Jesus, which is why children often leave hay and water in anticipation of the camels’ arrival.
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