Friday, January 04, 2013

Christmas In Beirut

It is strange, perhaps, to sit alone in a hotel room in downtown Beirut listening to a Christmas program, sung in English with distinctly Arab accents and still feel the specialness of the season.  I can't shake the feeling though that even without a tree, without friends or family, without warpped gifts, this is indeed a special time of the year.  There are so many wishes from friends and family for a Happy, Merry Christmas and New Year.  Who couldn't be cheered by all those reminders of goodwill and love? The truth is, the gifts I do receive, so thoughtfully packed and sent,  and bring back for family and friends are still appreciated.  They're just not exchanged in the way I used to.  I was reminded today, as I walked to Starbucks, how blessed I am.  I wore a beautiful shawl from my Uzbek "daughter", a gold pendant from my Iraqi "daughter," and carried an iPhone from my Libyan "son." What a rich and wonderful life I have! And all these children adopted me--even more amazing.

For the first time in 3 years I will attend a church service tonight, the midnight mass at All Saints Anglican, in English.  I am looking forward to that so much! The lack of all the things I used to associate with Christmas has distilled the meaning of the season to what is most essential and most meaningful.  Peace and Goodwill to all in this part of the world is more than a nice greeting on a card.  It is life itself to our neighbours in the south, the east, and the north.  
It was amazing to me how fully Christmas is embraced by people of all faiths but I think I understand.  It's the music, the family gatherings, the generosity, and, even the meaning for Christians that is appreciated and celebrated.  I have had Christmas wishes from people of all faiths who seem to understand its importance on a certain level.  I suppose it's a bit like wishing Muslims, "Eid Mubarak" at the end of Ramadan but the celebration of Christmas seems to happen in both houses.  I have done one other new thing this week--gone to a mall for the first time this term.  Because of the Christmas program I've been tied to the campus full-time since September.  My colleague and I hardly shopped at all but we enjoyed being in the mall, seeing the decorations, and being off campus for a bit.  Here are some pictures of the ABS Mall's Christmas tree and Santa Village There was a Santa, Father Christmas, there and a frightened child being held close to the Ho-Ho-Ho-ing Santa for a picture.

Later, I arrived at church after many "Yameens, Schmels, and Doghris" (Rights, Lefts, Straights) to the taxi driver.  I was early and there were guards standing there from the Lebanese Army.  One said, "No one told us there was church!"  I said, "Well, there is, at 11:30.  I SMS'ed (texted) the vicar."  He replied, "Hmmm...." and "Well, you know, the Christian situation in Lebanon is ... complicated."  I answered,  "yes, I know!"  And we all waited together for others to arrive.  They soon arrived and we went in.  We sang the carols with gusto, there being no other music, we shared the Eucharist, heard the sermon, and found the guards still there when we finished at 12:50 am.  As people left, the guards gradually dispersed.  Peace on Earth.

I was wide awake and so listened to my home church's Christmas Eve service on Skype with my sister and brother-in-law (and quite a few other people too, from what I could hear).  Their music was more professional but no less enthusiastic than that of the Beirut church.

This evening I have made an early reservation at "21" in the Crowne Plaza, a short distance from my hotel.  There I will be treated in the way I have always wished--with deference and solicitude!  Hehe...  And I will be back in my room in time for more Skype calls with family and friends.  In this day there is hardly any reason to be be totally alone!

I will return home tomorrow for a little marking and to prepare a dinner for some foreign grad students who couldn't get home--1 from Syria, 1 from Iraq.  We have been granted 1 extra day off (after our syllabus/schedules were in place, of course) so will start classes on the 3rd. Then there are just 2 weeks of classes left before exam week and a break between terms.

Love and Best Wishes for a Great New Year!


 Merry Christmas everyone!