Lebanese Advent traditions, Amhieh

Saint Barbara, or Barbara, is a very popular saint in the land of the Cedars and in the Middle East. Commemorated on December 4, the eve of his feast day witnesses exceptional festivities in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Turkey, and a series of traditions mostly repeated to this day.

Holy Beard and its traditions in Lebanon

Tradition has it that on the night of December 3, children and young people dress up and go in groups around the neighborhood singing a song dedicated to Saint Barbara “Hechlé Barbara”. They will knock on the doors of neighbors who thank them for their visit by offering them treats and money. The tradition of wearing masks has several explanations: some say that the saint had to smear her face with soot in order to be able to escape from her father, others believe that the wearing of masks would symbolize the soldiers who dragged Barbara into the streets before executing her, still others indicate that she had asked all the young people in her village to disguise themselves so that she could flee and thus go unnoticed.

(“Hechlé Barbara” traditional song for Saint Barbara sung by the diva Sabah).

Among the traditions celebrated by our ancestors and now disappeared with the innovation in the creation of masks and make-up products, Lebanese women lit a candle and passed a plate over its flame, so that the latter could soot shape. With this soot, they painted their eyes in memory of the Holy Martyrdom. A Lebanese proverb to express the idea that the days become a little shorter was also customary for Saint Barbara: ” Bi eid el Berbara, byekhoud elnhar mnel leyl nattit fara “: (At Saint Barbara, the day takes to at night the jump of a mouse).

Advent, according to tradition in Lebanon, began on the eve of Holy Barbara. In many homes, they made sure that the tree and the crib were ready for December 3. According to custom, wheat seeds are sown in saucers full of damp cotton, which are placed near the tree. Three weeks later, if these seeds have germinated well, they will decorate the crib; and according to superstitions, thus bode a good year to come – if they are frail and yellowed, they will portend a bad year. This custom derives its explanation from one of the versions of the story of the life of Saint Barbara who, wanting to escape from his persecutors, took refuge in a field of wheat whose ears have suddenly miraculously grown to cover and cover it. to hide.

Traditional Amhié – Delicious dish prepared and photographed by Zeina Renno, with her kind permission.

In terms of culinary celebrations, the aforementioned miracle of wheat also gave birth to the tradition of Amhiyé , the main ritual dish on the eve of Holy Barbara, made of cooked wheat, adorned with almonds, raisins, pistachios, pine nuts, pomegranate, sugar and coconut powder. Added to this dish are Atayef, small thick pancakes filled with Achta (milk cream) or crushed walnuts with sugar, all soaked in Ater (sweet syrup). These small oriental desserts symbolize the bitter and horrible food that was offered to the Saint during her torture, and which miraculously metamorphosed in her mouth into sweet dishes.

On the left, a dish from Atayef. – Delicious dish prepared and photographed by Zeina Renno, with her kind permission.

Today, the tradition of celebrating Saint Barbara continues, but is unfortunately and absurdly mixed up with Halloween, which, by a twist of a society subjected to blind consumption and the export of foreign festivities without grasping it. the real meaning. The humorous masks of various characters of use on December 4 interfere with the hideous heads of the skulls, zombies and monsters; the culinary traditions become entangled with the epiphany and the many traditional oriental festivities; but above all, the tours of children in villages and towns are disappearing, and this because of the lack of security and the terrorist threats that the land of cedars has been experiencing for the past ten years.

In the hope of better days, of a better education and culture out of respect for Lebanese history and identity, we wish you a Happy Sainte Barbe and Aaqbel kil sené.

Who is Sainte Barbe?

Saint Juliana and Saint Barbara. Detail of a contemporary Syro-Maronite icon made by RP Abdo Badwi.

According to the legend in its best-known version, Saint Barbara was born in Nicomedia, son of a satrap named Dioscuri, who locked her in a tower with two windows in order to shield her from any attack by Christian propaganda. Some argue that Saint Barbara is from Baalbeck and that the story of his martyrdom took place in this city; however, this information is not confirmed. Converted to Christianity despite her father’s precautions, she had a third window opened in her tower, to represent the Holy Trinity. Hearing the news of her conversion, her father, furious, demands her death, and inflicts all kinds of torture on her. Some traditions report that in trying to flee, a boulder miraculously splits in front of her, allowing her to flee from the hands of her torturers. She ends up dying beheaded by her father, who in turn dies struck by lightning.
Its cult spread to the East, then to the West in the 15th century. In the Eastern Churches, it is also celebrated and represented with Saint Juliana where they are displayed together in the iconography. Saint Barbara is represented with a tower with three windows, often wearing the crown of martyrdom or holding a cross or palm also symbolizing his martyrdom, and carrying a ciborium.

The existence of Sainte Barbe is however subject to controversy, as to its historicity. Some claim that it is more of a fantasy, and others confirm its existence and its cult which dates back to the dawn of Christianity. Because of these hesitations, and the lack of precision in the various accounts reported on its history, and the inaccuracy in space and time of the unfolding of the facts, the Catholic Church no longer officially celebrates Saint Barbara. On February 14, 1969, Pope Paul IV published his Motu proprio “Mysterii paschalis”, a sort of new calendar addressed to the universal Church, in which – among other things – he reduced the number of feasts of saints, including the historicity is not confirmed. Holy Beard is thus removed from the general Roman calendar, but appears there in the category of “Own” (special celebrations for a specific Christian community), the Saints celebrated in Lebanon.

Sign posted by the municipality of Baalbeck for the Holy Barbara. One of the many traditions is that the story of the life of Saint Barbara took place in Lebanon in the city of Baalbeck. But until today, no data is able to prove the authenticity of the story of this Christian martyrdom.

By Marie-Josée Rizkallah

Bibliographical references

DUCHET-SUCHAUX Gaston, PASTOUREAU Michel, The Bible and the Saints , Flammarion, Paris, 1994.
HADJITHOMAS MEHANNA Tania, KASSATLY Houda, Lebanon & On, Tamyras, Beirut, 2010.
MOUBARAC Youakim, Antiochian Pentalogy, Domaine Maronite, v. 1, t. 2, Lebanese Cenacle, Beirut, 1984.
SAUMA Victor, In the footsteps of the Saints in Lebanon, t. 1., FMA, Lebanon, 1994.

Marie Josée Rizkallah
Marie-Josée Rizkallah est une artiste libanaise originaire de Deir-el-Qamar. Versée dans le domaine de l’écriture depuis l’enfance, elle est l’auteur de trois recueils de poèmes et possède des écrits dans plusieurs ouvrages collectifs ainsi que dans la presse nationale et internationale. Écrivain bénévole sur le média citoyen Libnanews depuis 2006, dont elle est également cofondatrice, profondément engagée dans la sauvegarde du patrimoine libanais et dans la promotion de l'identité et de l’héritage culturel du Liban, elle a fondé l'association I.C.H.T.A.R. (Identité.Culture.Histoire.Traditions.Arts.Racines) pour le Patrimoine Libanais dont elle est actuellement présidente. Elle défend également des causes nationales qui lui touchent au cœur, loin des équations politiques étriquées. Marie-Josée est également artiste peintre et iconographe de profession, et donne des cours et des conférences sur l'Histoire et la Théologie de l'Icône ainsi que l'Expression artistique. Pour plus de détails, visitez son site: mariejoseerizkallah.com son blog: mjliban.wordpress.com et la page FB d'ICHTAR : https://www.facebook.com/I.C.H.T.A.R.lb/

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