President Emil Lahhoud yesterday attended the Christmas mass at the Maronite Patriarchy's headquarters in Bkirki. The mass, which was headed by Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nassrallah Boutros Sfeir, was preceded by a closed-door meeting between Sfeir and the president.
In his sermon, the Maronite Patriarch reiterated his support for the president saying Lahhoud helped separate authority from personal interest. Sfeir also hoped for peace urging believers not to despair. For his part, President Lahhoud praised Bkirki's national role. He also stressed the importance of national unity and solidarity among the Lebanese people.
After the mass, Sfeir met popular and official delegations who congratulated him on the occasion of the holy season. Sfeir also received congratulatory letters from former President Elias Al-Hrawi, Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss and former Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri.
In his Christmas Eve address, Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nassrallah Boutros Sfeir hoped to see progress in the Middle East peace process and an eventual solution to the situation in South Lebanon and the Western Bekaa.
Sfeir also called on the Lebanese to work harder to strengthen national solidarity and secure better respect for human rights in their country. He also reiterated his support for President Emil Lahhoud's government saying: "A new page has been opened and I hope that it will carry all the changes the Lebanese aspire to."
For their part, Sidon's Orthodox, Greek Catholic, and Maronite archbishops issued a joint Christmas Eve address in which they denounced Israel's ongoing attacks on civilian villages in the South and the Western Bekaa.
But in their statement, they also expressed hope that Lebanese occupied territories would soon be liberated.
Tension remains high in the South as Israel continues its attacks on villages in the southern occupied zone and the Western Bekaa. Israeli troops and their allied militia in the zone imposed a curfew on the residents between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. hindering all attempts at Christmas celebrations or festivities.
But decorating a tree for Christmas continues to be a yearly custom in many of these villages. Christians in the South put up trees outside their homes and churches. Joint dinners were also held in some areas despite the curfew.
No matter how one tours Lebanese cities and villages during Christmas time, Beirut's atmosphere during this festive season remains special.
The bright lights are going on all over the city. Even the chill and cold of the evening air fail to dampen the festive spirits of the Christmas season in Beirut.
The tallest Christmas tree in Lebanon can be seen only in Beirut, bringing holiday cheer to Martyrs' Square in the downtown area. Surrounded by poinsettia and huge red presents, the 20-meter-tall tree is decorated with shiny shooting stars and red and silver balls. Passing-by children can be seen urging their parents to stop by and have a close look at the huge tree.
On Christmas night, the shopping rush degenerated into a bout of annual holiday traffic gridlock as thousands of cars were backed up along the capital's freeways and boulevards. Hamra Street and Jounieh were two of the most crowded areas. Christmas songs and carols were also played in the capital's shopping areas and Santa Claus was cheering up shoppers everywhere.
For children, Christmas is certainly a time of cake and gifts. You can always hear them talk about Santa and the long list they prepared for him.
But for those children who had very little to celebrate on Christmas, a special party was organized by the Social Affairs Ministry. More than 90 children were entertained by social workers dressed in clown costumes. They tried to keep the restless children occupied with songs and games until Santa came with his huge red bag filled with presents for everyone.
For the many children who haven't received presents for years, this was certainly a very special day. Similar parties were organized for orphans by charity groups across the country.
Shortly before Christmas, environmental groups in the country campaign against tree cutting. They urge citizens to buy plastic trees instead.
But groups like the National Christmas Tree Association were trying to show that a tree is not just for Christmas. If it still has roots, a tree can be replanted and it will thrive.
The association urged all those who dump their trees once Christmas is over to replant them in their gardens or even in their neighborhoods or schools.
The group advised live tree owners to make a gradual switch from indoors to outdoors before planting. Usually planted at 60 centimeters, these trees should be watered immediately and the earth around them should be tightly compact.
The spirit of Christmas filled the nights of many Lebanese villages thanks to choir recitals that were held in churches across the country on the holy night.
In Beit Meri, around 52 singers performed at the Mar Sassine church which was decorated with Christmas trees and bright lights. The choir that had been rehearsing for three months sang "Joy to the World" and "Silent Night" in four languages. Around 300 people attended the recital and enjoyed the heavenly atmosphere and the holiday spirit.
The sound of choirs was also heard in many other villages such as Deir Al-Qamar in the Chouf and in a number of Beirut universities such as AUB and LAU.
For a second consecutive year, Christmas falls during the Muslim holy month of fasting, Ramadan. In Beirut and in some other capitals of the Arab world, a relatively new phenomenon appeared. After breaking their fast at sunset, many Muslims visit Ramadan tents to meet friends and enjoy the songs of the old days and the special food.
On Christmas Eve, many of these tents are decorated with shooting stars and filled with Christmas plants and trees. "Since it's Ramadan, on Christmas Eve we will stay up and celebrate until it's time to start fasting," one tent visitor said. "Any occasion that brings happiness is an occasion worth celebrating," another argued.
Thus, many Muslims in Lebanon see nothing wrong in celebrating Ramadan and Christmas. Some even host a "Christmas Iftar" with family and friends gathering for dinner and presents on Christmas Eve.
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