As children, on Christmas morning we would get up from our beds and run to the tree. Modest gifts would wait for us there. These could be chocolates, candies or small games. We would open our gifts and play straight away.
On the table would be plates full of Drag’iih (almond candy), hummus candy, sweets and chocolates. We call these Bostrinh plates. These plates were for visitors who came to congratulate us on the holiday. It was common to visit neighbors and friends - and to sample the bostrinh plate in every home!
The children would dress up and go to the nearest church, called Hsilizian, which was close to my uncle’s house, to pray.
Our mothers and aunts do not rest for a minute. They are busy preparing for the holiday lunch which is a very rich meal, usually stuffed. The meal consisted of three classic Nazarene elements: meat, rice and yogurt.
As I mentioned before, my mothe r was a Catholic, and Catholic Christmas week was dedicated to the grandparents and the Catholic side of the family. We were very close to them. One of our holiday customs was to go shopping in the market with my uncle.
We would carry the baskets, of course. At the end of the day they were full. We would buy chicken, meat, vegetables, seasonal fruits like oranges, tangerines, and all kinds of citrus fruits, chestnuts and candy, chocolates and sweets. We’d even buy some new decorations for the tree – every year it would be renewed and refreshed.
The family would roll carpets, move furniture and change the shape of the house for the holiday. The tree stands, the house is heated, the cooking has been done by all the wonderful women and we're almost ready!
And now a central part: what would we eat at a Christmas dinner?
Salads always come first: hummus, tabbouleh, roasted eggplant in tahini, Bkdonsiiha (tahini with finely chopped parsley), stuffed spleen, and Sficha (pastry with minced meat). Every house would have their barbeque going in the courtyard to cook the food.
Kubeh is a traditional holiday dish. When I was hanging out with my cousins in their neighborhood, we could hear the hammering of giorno al-Kubeh, the big mortar and pestle made from stone for grinding the meat. This noise sounded from every home near dinnertime and it was one of the symbols of our special Nazareth Christmas.
I remember when my auntie, Karma, who was very strong, would grind the meat, we would watch it very curiously. Pieces of flesh would jump from the bowl to the ceiling and stick there. We would roll with laughter! My aunt would laugh with us, and even let us taste the Kubeh.
When Kubeh was ready, it was time for dinner!
We would sit around the table, eating and drinking a toast in honor of the holiday. Homemade Arak (liquor) was the traditional drink, made from grapes and aniseed. Nazarenes are not giving up on Arak with traditional meals, along with wine. Children would drink Arak diluted with plenty of water.
We ate, sang, laughed and danced until the morning, and felt joy, love and true family unity, which is not easy to produce. Only with God and Jesus in people’s heart can we make such important things.
Here's the menu of a Christmas day feast:
Chicken stuffed with rice and meat.
Stuffed turkey with rice and meat.
Lamb stuffed with rice and meat.
Stuffed lamb neck.
Stuffed lamb breast.
Nazarenes sit and celebrate for three days straight, and during the week they begin to prepare for the New Year. But that's a story I'll tell you another time.