Since our childhood, we were raised following so many religious traditions and celebrations. Main big events were Christmas and easter for Christians, Ramadan and Adha for Muslims.
Lately, and specifically in the last few years, we are noticing some leaking of the western traditions to the Middle east in general, and Lebanon in particular. Those neo-traditions are mostly due to the quick spread of news, infos and photos through the social media like facebook, twitter and instagram.
Halloween is more of an American/Canadian feast. Mexico and England, both primarily Christian countries do not celebrate it the same way it is celebrated in the US.
Halloween is not widely practiced in the Middle East. The origins of celebration are celtic and the tradition was brought to the United States by the Irish.
Some Christians in the Middle East, Maronites in Lebanon for example, will be celebrating the original Christian festival of All Saints Day (All Hallows in old English). Some may well start their celebrations with a vigil the night before – starting on All Saints Eve (All Hallows Eve or Hallowe’en for short in Old English).
Because they were unaffected by the Protestant reformation, they were never introduced to the Puritan idea that All Saints Day, or its Eve, was wicked or satanic or pagan. Neither have they come across the later myth about pagan origins. They still celebrate it as Catholics have done for the last 1200 years or so.
The real and authentic “Halloween” celebration in Lebanon has always been know as
“ eid el Barbara”, the night of December 4.
As defined in Wikipedia, Eid il-Burbara or Saint Barbara’s Day, is a holiday annually celebrated on December 4 among Middle Eastern Christians in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine. It has become Lebanon’s counterpart to the Halloween celebration, although it existed as a tradition much earlier. It is celebrated in honor of the Christian Saint and Martyr Saint Barbara. The general belief among Lebanese Christians is that Saint Barbara disguised herself in many different characters to elude the Romans who were persecuting her.
The traditional food made on this feast is Burbara, a bowl of boiled wheat grains, pomegranate seeds, raisins, anise and sugar. It is offered to children who go from one house to another in costumes. In Lebanon, Lebanese Christians cook a dough that is filled with walnuts or cheese. Heavy traffic occurs in bakeries because of people buying the traditional food for this holiday. Children go trick or treating while singing a special song for Eid il-Burbara. Moreover, Halloween decorations, such as jack-o’-lanterns, can be seen.
A common practice in Lebanon on Eid il-Burbara finds its source on the legend of Saint Barbara who was believed to witness a miracle while fleeing prosecution. She ran through freshly planted wheat fields, which grew instantly to cover her path.
This miracle is recreated symbolically today by planting wheat seeds (or chick peas, barley grains, beans, lentils, etc.) in cotton wool on Saint Barbara’s feast day. The seeds germinate and grow up to around 6 inches in time for Christmas, when the shoots are used to decorate the nativity scene usually placed below the Christmas tree.
Sofor the Lebanese who will be celebrating Halloween tomorrow, we ask them not to ignore and forget our real traditional eid el burbara, which for me has much more religious meanings then the western Halloween.