Home Away From Home

I usually spend Christmas in cold Wisconsin, USA, where we sit by the blazing fire more for warmth than for its ambience. This year we’ll celebrate in Lebanon.

Creating Christmas in Lebanon is not about replicating the holiday from home. That’s a formula for disappointment.

The key is to build a new tradition that combines the best of both worlds.

What to bring along

A few special decorations with sentimental value, favorite family recipes, and some favorite childhood movies and stories are all I need from home. We’ll deck the halls, or at least the tree, with some bobbles. I wonder if I can find a box of icicles, the thin silver ribbons that, when combined with a string of lights, had a magical effect on the
Christmas trees of my childhood. A few candles, festive tablecloth and centerpiece will create an elegant table.
Scents and flavors fill my Christmas memories. The smell of apple cider on the stove, the rich creamy taste of hot chocolate, peppermint candy canes, and Christmas cookies with powdered sugar or nuts or chocolate, Grandma’s soft cinnamon and brown sugar pecan rolls, a Christmas Eve dinner of a grand turkey with bread stuffing and cranberry sauce, followed by pumpkin pie – all I need are a few family recipes and Frank Sinatra’s Christmas album to play in the background.

Some cozy flannel pajamas, just like the ones we wore as children, will be just right for relaxing in front of the tree and watching It’s a Wonderful Life, How the Grinch Stole Christmas or Elf. And we’ll have to read Clement Clarke Moore’s T’was the Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve.
Fellow American Christopher Littlefield’s Christmases brings together customs from his childhood home in Maine and his wife Maria’s home in Mexico. The Acknowledgement Works founder and consultant became a local celebrity here with his talk at the 2012 TEDxBeirut.

Christopher and Maria “have to have a real tree,” so they decorate a pine bush, “like those you might see outside a business building.” Christopher brings out a stocking knit from rough red yarn that his grandmother’s sister made.
“I associate Christmas with the people from my childhood,” he said. That’s why every year on Christmas Day, he calls his best friend. “It’s been 36 years and we still check in with each other on Christmas.” When he misses the cold
Maine weather that “just feels like Christmas,” he and Maria take a drive to Faraya to breathe in the cold, crisp air and see the snow.

Maria’s traditions include Three Kings Day on Jan. 6, when they share the Rosca de Reyes, a crown of bread with a small, plastic doll representing the baby Jesus hidden inside.
Whoever’s piece of bread has the doll has to make the tamales for la Candelaria on Feb. 2, a celebration of the 40th day after Jesus’ birth.

What to add

Living in Lebanon, the little fields added Lebanese touches to their celebrations. “One of the best things about being in a new place is having new experiences,” Christopher said. “We’d go to ABC Mall to hear the carolers and walk around Achrafieh to see the decorations. And the cookies made here with a wooden press—delicious.”
Inspired by Christopher and Maria, I revised my plan. We’ll also head to ABC Mall and Achrafieh to take in the festivities.
We’ll see the decorations at Beirut Souks and enjoy holiday music performances in Beirut’s historic churches.
Tabbouleh and hummus will be tasty additions to our
Christmas dinner.

And where can I find those cookies?