Traditions and Prayers: A Christmas in Syria

The idea for this page is to look at different traditions, prayers, and liturgical practices from around the world. This issue is going to focus on Syria. The entirety of the article was taken from inobase.com and can be found at Syrian Christmas tradions

Syrian Christmas Traditions

On Christmas Eve, Syrian Christian families lock the gates of their homes, to serve as a reminder of their persecutions during the old times, when Christianity was forbidden. The families get together on the Eve of Christmas and perform Christmas rituals as per Syrian traditions. On this day, the youngest child in the family recites the Gospel story of the Nativity aloud, after which, a family member is expected to light a bonfire in the courtyard. The family members then gather around the bonfire with candles in their hands. The Syrian Christians observe the manner in which the flames of the bonfire spread through the wood. They observe this, in order to determine whether they would be blessed in the coming year or otherwise. Psalms are recited till the fire lasts and once the fires have seared out, Syrian Christians leap over the hot charcoal embers and make their wishes.

Christmas Mass

On Christmas morning, the people attend Mass at church and a cheerful procession is held. Wherever the Mass is held, a bonfire is also lit right in the center of the venue. During the Mass, the Syrian people chant hymns and prayers. The priest would carry a figure of Jesus Christ in his hand and walk around the church, while the Syrians recite the hymns. After the prayers, the priest performs the ‘touch of peace’, wherein he touches a person’s hand and the touch is passed from one person to another in the church. This ensures the blessings are passed on.

Syrian Christmas Feasting

The Christmas dinner is the next, chief event for the Syrians. The people prepare delicious chicken, lamb and dessert dishes. Some of their famous Christmas dishes include ‘Baba Ghannouj’, ‘Hummus’, ‘Baklava’ and ‘Mezze platters’.

About 10 per cent of the entire Nation of Syria is made up of Eastern Maronite Catholics, who celebrate Christmas. Many of them observe fasts, which is actually a spiritual preparation before Christmas. Their fasts include avoiding foods that contain dairy products, meat, eggs and fish.

Syrian Legends

According to the Syrian legends, the camel is believed to be the traditional gift-bringer. Legend states that, the youngest camel carrying the ‘Three Kings’ or ‘Magi’, who followed the star to search for Baby Jesus, was drained by the long journey and fell down. Jesus Christ is said to have blessed the camel with immortal life. The Syrians believe that the camel bring gifts to the children on New Year’s Eve, every year. The children in Syria leave shoes outside their houses on the Eve of Christmas, along with hay and some water to feed the camel. The next morning, these children would eagerly search for their gifts in the shoes. People in Syria, religiously observe Christmas every year. ‘Milad Majid’ meaning ‘Merry Christmas’ is wished in Arabic to the people of Syria. During the Christmas season, the people embark on a shopping spree with their families as a part of age-old tradition. Women are expected to shop for sweets and the men accompany the women for shopping. Shopping is considered a major activity during the Christmas festivities.

Christmas is a festival that is celebrated globally and Syria is no exception. In Syria, Christmas is celebrated with devoted passion and zeal. Children believe that their Christmas gift-bringer is a small camel that they eagerly wait for every year on New Year’s Eve.

A Maronite Christmas Prayer

The Maronite rite is Syrian based and takes its name from Saint Maron, a Syrian monk, mystic, and evangelizer from the fourth century. (The Wanderer Sunday 27th October 2019, A Merry Maronite Christmas found here). The following three stanzas are taken from a prayer from a Maronite rite Christmas novena. The entirety of which (in 3 different languages) can be found at: Maronite Novena 

Glory to the Voice

Glory to the Voice, the Word made flesh, 
Who has come to earth to dwell with us. 
We have heard and seen and touched our Lord; 
Our mouths have received his flesh and blood.

Let us thank our Lord who came to us. 
He gave hope and life. He saved the world.
Jesus, Mary’s child, spoke not a word; 
Though, as God, he knew the tongues of all.

The Eternal Word, the Ancient One,  
Joseph’s arms embraced with joy and love.  
Christ was but a child, so meek and poor; 
Yet so wise and strong, our King and God. 

To listen to this beautiful melody in Maronite chant follow the link here, or, to keep listening to other beautiful Maronite chant, go to maronitemusic.org

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