Christmas Day in most places is a time of joy and hope, but in Lebanon local Christians stood before this most glorious of occasions in confusion and despair amid the bitter reality that has overtaken their lives.
There were some decorations and Christmas atmosphere on the streets of Beirut, and parties here and there in some villages and towns. But they belied a grim situation as Lebanon’s economy and healthcare system near total collapse.
Rasha al-Khoury tells Israel Today how Christmas customs and rituals have had to change in the Cedar Nation: “I used to spend every year with my family in my childhood hometown, but this Christmas we were unable to travel to other cities because of the high price of gasoline. We also knew that Christmas dinner would not look like in previous years. How do we buy meat, chicken and fish in light of the high prices, as well as vegetables to prepare a plate of tabbouleh?”
Christmas used to be an opportunity for Rasha to buy new clothes for herself and loved ones, but she said that was impossible this year. “The priority is to buy medicines, foodstuffs and basic necessities. As for gifts, I had to satisfy myself with with greeting my family in a letter, or perhaps through a handmade gift. The situation simply doesn’t allow for purchasing gifts.”
Rasha recalled the significance and essence of Christmas: “It is true that it is not about gifts, toys, decorations and new clothes. But the hardship doesn’t stop there. My family is in agony over my mother’s chronic illness and her need for medication and treatment every month, which imposes great responsibilities on my elderly father, who works as a taxi driver. They, like most of Lebanese society, are deprived of basic needs.”
Pastor Amal Saad, pastor of the Baptist Church in Ain Zhalta near Mount Lebanon, told Israel Today how he prepared for Christmas under such conditions: “We prepared a light dinner. We couldn’t hold a feast as we used to, with the participation of relatives and friends, and we did not bring expensive gifts for Christmas. We did still decorate the tree, but had to forgo buying gifts for relatives. My wife and I did decide to buy a modest gift for our young daughter.”
Lilian Machaalani, who is in her 50s and hails from the Bekaa region, spoke of the extent of the suffering: “There was no Christmas celebration this year, which was worse than the previous year. Christmas simply had no luster. We were unable to purchase anything needed to host people and celebrate. Christmas dinner was limited to pastries prepared at home, and inexpensive simple food. Conditions are harsh for everyone, and no one can bear the cost. And the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic is only making things worse.”
Even so, Lilian concluded by saying: “The spirit of Christmas remains in our hearts, and may the New Year bring goodness and joy to all.”