No Netanyahu, Israel Isn’t The Only Middle Eastern Place Where Christians Can Celebrate Christmas

In his increasingly childish bitchfit against the international political establishment that saw his country’s transgressions through settlements on Palestinian land finally made illegal with a UN resolution banning Israel – yeah, right – from building more of them, the Israeli PM is lashing out at his country’s closest ally and the reason Israel has been off the hook in everything it’s done for years, the United States.

As part of a rant aimed at US Secretary of State John Kerry whose tone was very moderate towards the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, with him recognizing the plight of Palestinians and their refugees, the land grab they’ve been victim of, among other things, Netanyahu figured it best to remind Kerry, and by extension of his buzz words that you know will circle Fox News for months to come, other Americans and Westerners who see Israel as the only worthy beacon of civilization in the Middle East that – and I quote:

“Israel is the only place in the Middle East where Christians can celebrate Christmas.”

In the grand scheme of things, such statements are utterly meaningless, mostly because they’re pure bullshit. But as we’ve seen bullshit can actually get equal bullshit elected. The danger in letting such statements go by unchallenged is that they play right into the rhetoric that Israel and its allies want to put forward: It is the only country in the Middle East that’s, for all matters and purposes, worth anything, everyone else be damned.

It’s precisely not challenging such statements in the past that has turned Israel from the apartheid state existing on occupied territory, turning a blind eye towards all rules of war, ignoring many of the UN resolutions in which it is part, among other things, to this “liberal,” “religiously free” beacon of “hope” in the Middle East that is only “defending” itself against those “Arabs” who just don’t get it. All of this to the backdrop of Christian-centric, Israel-loving, everything and everyone else-hating Trump coming in 3 weeks.

So Netanyahu, and those that seem to believe him, how about you come sit on last year’s Byblos tree? I’m pretty sure it will bring your lot quite the pleasure.

jbeil-byblos-christmas-tree-2015

This year’s tree can work fine too:

byblos-jbeil-christmas-tree-2016

Or how about you come see this year’s tree in Tripoli? In case you didn’t know, that’s *whispers* Muslim territory.

tripoli-christmas-village-1

How about checking out the tree in Downtown Beirut?

beirut-downtown-tree-2016

Pic via @livelovebeirut.

Or the many other ways through which Beirut celebrated Christmas? (Pictures via LiveLoveBeirut).

 

Or how about the tree in my own house where my family gathered for Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas lunch, opened presents and then had some of its members go to midnight mass?

lebanon-christmas-decoration-2016-2

Or those pesky Christmas decorations in all our malls?

I also don’t see Israel on that Huffington Post list of notable Christmas trees from around the world but Lebanon has TWO entries there, as does the West Bank. Weird, huh?

I find it odd that the country that sells itself as being the world’s only Jewish state and gets away with it because anyone who tries to challenge that notion is deemed anti-Semitic has the audacity to claim it’s a defender of Christian rights when Christians in Israel are, similarly to Muslims, inherently second class citizens due to the fact they’re not, you know, Jewish. Just an FYI to Netanyahu and his friends, the president in Lebanon is Christian and I, a Lebanese who happens to be Christian (on paper), have the absolute freedom to practice my religion if I want to without worrying about checkpoints, armies oppressing me, a state that deems my religion second-rate, among other things.

And if you thought that Lebanon was a special case, let me remind you that it was less than a week ago that Israeli rabbis had a problem with Christmas decorations at a local mall. Or does that not affect the way Christians celebrate Christmas?

Conversely, when that “scandal” was going down, I was visiting the Jordanian city Aqaba, from which I could see Eilat. The city was Christmas ready with decorations at its hotels and streets, even though its Christian population is minor.

aqaba-christmas-decoration

The fact of the matter is that the best Christmas in the Middle East isn’t in Lebanon or in Jordan, but where it all began: Bethlehem. And even that isn’t in Israel either.

Tea, meet kettle.

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Sorry Jbeil, Lebanon’s Best Christmas Tree Is In Tripoli This Year

At a time when Christmas decorations have become yet another opportunity for Lebanese locales to compete among each other, spending tens of thousands (if not more) of dollars for momentary decorations instead of more needed development.

But I digress. Jbeil, whose Christmas decorations have become a yearly landmark, wouldn’t be too pleased to find out that its (lackluster?) tree this year, which faced stiff competition from the one in Zgharta, is being bested by a very unlikely competitor for the coveted title of Lebanon’s best.

In Tripoli’s unfinished Rachid Karameh expo, a modern-art Christmas tree, inspired by one of Oscar Niemeyer’s landmarks in the expo, merging Ramadan Lanterns with Christmas decorations was unveiled yesterday, to show that the holidays in the country are better celebrated together and that we, as a country, are stronger in being together. This comes from a city that is trying to pick up the pieces from the mayhem it was forced into as a result of years of systematic neglect during which its people were killed, its infrastructure crumbled and its reputation took a beating.

But Tripoli is trying to change all that. Next to its Christmas tree, at 25 meters of height, is an entire Christmas village akin to the one you can go to in Beirut at Train Station. The place is full of local shops trying to sell you goods. I’ve been to that of Beirut yesterday and the one in Tripoli is quite different: the prices are cheaper, it’s more organized and it’s way cleaner. You won’t see people chainsmoking their way indoors up North.

The Christmas village imported the widely popular “Souk el Akel” to Tripoli as well. While the concept of a food market has escaped our Lebanese-ness with the fact that such places should be affordable, with the joke going laban with cucumbers there costing you around $20, this is not the case in Tripoli. The marketplace is half composed of local Tripoli restaurants, and they’re super cheap. You wouldn’t want to miss out on the local moghrabiye.

All of this, including access to the usually closed Rachid Karameh expo, a gorgeous place, costs just 5000LL. The money goes to help thousands of needy children this Christmas season as well as to buy gifts for 2,000 orphans around the city.

The Christmas village will also be hosting a slew of stars in concert this year, as well as Brazilian football player Roberto Carlos who will be there on December 20th:

roberto-carlos-tripoli

So I suggest all of you make the trip up North for the next few days (the village runs until December 22nd) and check out how Tripoli is trying to reclaim its spot on the Lebanese landscape.

The Maturity of Lebanon’s Educated Youth

Students from party X at some university in this country were offering Christmas candy. They run across students from party Y who refuse to take their candy.

Therefore, a student from party X has a shouting row with another student from party Y. They start fighting. Their buddies join in. Soon enough, a bunch of students from party Z see the fight and join in with their political allies Y. They can’t leave 3dam l ra2be (their backbone) alone like that.

That’s one version of the story. Other versions exist. All versions don’t matter. You can substitute X, Y and Z to whichever current Lebanese political party that gives you peace of mind.

The result is several bloodied students who, after having the bejeezus beaten out of them, are posing for pictures with their favorite political sign while they sit on a gurney in the back of an ambulance. Their pictures are then shared by other educated students who support their political movement. Exhibit A:

Taratattata to the hospital! Woohoo!

Taratattata to the hospital! Woohoo

Sadly, at the time of writing this, I didn’t have pictures from students from other political parties.

The previous picture held the caption “till martyrdom” by the other student that shared it. It seems martyrdom these days has become about fighting for Christmas candy rights.

The following day, students from those same parties but at an entirely different campus found themselves in an even worse fight. The details are irrelevant. People will believe what they want to believe. However, this is what’s becoming more and more certain:

This educated youth that our fathers and forefathers (and mothers) are counting on to help better the crappy state of our country is absolutely hopeless. Be it from those who are starting the fights over absolutely meaningless things when they’re supposed to be attending classes to those who are proud and sharing these people’s pictures on Facebook with all kinds of praise.

If the educated youth of Lebanon which should give the country hope are as brain-dead as the current ruling class and if these educated youth are the ones behaving like this, then what have they left to those who are less educated? You know, those people we love to hate because they’re poor and illiterate and easily driven by politicians?

What’s worse is that these people who made a fool out of themselves and out of the political parties they represent will not be reprimanded. On the contrary, their corresponding political leader will congratulate them for standing up to injustice. For standing up to what’s right. For believing in their party’s principles. For defending their brethren’s honor. For not letting those despicable others leave without broken noses. For being mature enough to know right from wrong. For taking a stance… all for some Christmas candy-coated political crap, in the time of forgiveness and all that jazz.

‘Tis the season not to turn your back and leave confrontations but to offer people a bloody eye while you ditch your course to spread Christmas glee. Merry Christmas!

 

#ChristmasTweet – @Crepaway Giving Back This Christmas

#ChristmasTweet - Crepaway 1

I went with a couple of friends to Crepaway yesterday and figured their new sous-plat is worth sharing with you. For this year’s Christmas season, Crepaway is donating 500LL (33 cents for my International readers) for every tweet containing the hashtag #ChristmasTweet with the mention of Crepaway. All proceeds will go to the Lebanese Autism Society, a charity supporting a cause that many in Lebanon don’t speak about.

You can also order their Christmas Treat dessert which costs about 19,000 out of which 1,000 will be donated to charity.

I made the post’s title as the hashtag to be tweeted on purpose. Every time you share this article on twitter, you will be donating. Give back this Christmas season. All it takes is a click.

Lastly, I would like to thank Crepaway for the awesome gesture and I hope other restaurants follow suit in using Twitter and other platforms to spread awareness to certain causes and tangibly help them.

#ChristmasTweet - Crepaway 2

Memories From Lebanese Christmases

The Christmas tree & Nativity Scene at my home
There’s a reason Christmas is the favorite time of the year of many people. I am one of those people.

No matter how hard life could be treating me – regardless of whether my problems can be considered grand or minute – I always find the Christmas spirit creeping up on me as soon as November turns its last page.

There’s just something about this holiday that transcends hardships, the division of religions… and there’s more to it than the glitter of Christmas decorations and gift purchases. To me, Christmas runs deeper than that.

My earliest Christmas memory is from back when I was three. I remember getting this present involving a “car” which ran on batteries that were recharged out of an electric socket. It was pretty high-tech back then. That same Christmas eve, it snowed in my hometown – the very first Christmas I remember was white.

But what’s probably the highlight of that Christmas for me was not the very awesome gift I got or the snow that piled up outside my room’s windows. It was sitting with my parents, grandparents, uncles, aunt and baby brother, next to a fireplace as my mother chanted Christmas hymns.

My mother has a terrific voice, which she inherited from her father whom I never knew and her singing Majida El Roumi’s “Bilayli Berdani” on that night will forever be ingrained in my memory: the way this simple song was able to keep the light in the room when it was dark.

However, as one grows up, the joy that is brought by Christmas starts to lessen. You get more excited about the vacation you’ll get from school and the gifts you’ll receive from various family members much more about the obvious meaning of the holiday.

The Pope called this in this year’s Christmas sermon “superficial glitter” – and he’s absolutely right. We stop at the superficial regarding Christmas without ever going a little deeper than that. Even the word Christmas has a contracted form now in the form of X-mas. How hard could it be for anyone to type five extra letters, I have no idea.

Whenever Christmas rolls around, shops start to get their prices ready for the huge influx of shoppers that are there to spend their paychecks. And we’ve all done it. But I, for one, don’t do it because I feel like getting gifts is something I have to do, although I admit when the shopping gets horrible I begin to wonder why I’ve gotten myself into that mess. Why I get gifts is because I feel happy when I see my grandmother smile as I hand her a sweater or my mother have a tear in her eye as I give her the perfume I bought her.

The joy that comes from Christmas is not one from the materialistic. It’s a joy that flows around the air, that transcends the mundane motions that going through life entails. It is the happiness you feel when you’re at a shopping mall and you find a father carrying his toddler son on his shoulders and dancing to the tunes of Christmas songs blasting through the speakers. It is the unconscious smile you have on your face when you see an impromptu Christmas parade around the streets in Achrafieh, knowing that no matter how grim the situation might be, this a time for everyone to be happy.

The joy from Christmas comes from the warmth of your family all huddled next to you, sharing a meal, hoping that these people will be present at this same meal the following year. The joy from Christmas arises from the distinct memories you have of every Christmas eve you’ve lived through – and how even through the darkest places your family has gone through, you can still find smiles on that day.

Merry Christmas to all. And on the day where God gave the world His Son, whether you believe that happened or not, it is fitting that you also give back to those who are less fortunate. Donate to a charity, or a cause or anything you might see fit. Give and let live. Forgive those who have trespassed against you for that is the true meaning of Christmas.

And on this Christmas, my heart goes out to all the people in the world who are suffering because of their beliefs, especially the Christians of Egypt and Iraq. May they find the peace they need with the smiles they have on Christmas day.

My 2011 Christmas Playlist

If you’re like me and just started to get into the Christmas musically (shopping and other stuff should have started already. If not, well don’t worry you still have time), this post is for you – or at least for your consideration.

While driving to my university today, a friend who carpools with me suggested that for the rest of the week I put Christmas music in the car. So I started thinking… what’s a decent length playlist full of Christmas music that I can listen to over and over again, at least till a bit after December 25th. So here it goes.

1 – All I Want For Christmas – Michael Bublé

This beats the original by a long mile. And it’s an awesome opener for the playlist.

2 – Hark! The Herald Angels Sing – Carrie Underwood

An uptempo with a great vocal to back it up. You cannot but feel Christmasy happy listening to this.

3 – Silent Night – Josh Groban

A classic by one of this generation’s best male vocalists.

4 – Joy To The World – David Archuleta

A nice rendition of this song by a young singer.

5 – Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Lady Antebellum

This classic song isn’t about Christmas per se but you can’t but listen to it during the season.

6 – What Child Is This – Carrie Underwood

This is chilling and haunting.

7 – Peppermint Winter – Owl City

“What’s December without Christmas Eve?” – so true.

8 – Blue Christmas – Andrea Bocelli &  Reba McEntire

A great version of this timeless Christmas classic.

9 – Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful) – Celine Dion

Like her or not, she can sing – especially when it comes to songs like this. Make sure you check out her version.

10 – O Holy Night – Carrie Underwood

My favorite version of this song. Ever.

11 – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Glee 

I’m not the biggest fan of Glee. In fact, I think the show royally sucks. But every now and then, they release their versions of songs and it just works. This is one of them.

12 – Bilayli Berdani – Majida El Roumi

One of the few Lebanese chants that reminds me of my childhood – of my mother singing it to me during Christmas. I couldn’t even find a YouTube version for it.

13 – The First Noel – Carrie Underwood

Because there’s no better way to end this playlist than with her impeccable falsetto singing “born is the King of Israel.”

 

Bonus Track – because it’s Christmas and just one more track isn’t a bad thing:

Jesus, Take The Wheel – Carrie Underwood

 

Merry Christmas From Apple – The iPhone 4S Siri Santa Claus Ad

Apple has launched another ad for the iPhone 4S’ Siri – and this time, it’s all about Christmas and Santa.

Having used Siri for the past month, I can attest to its functionality – everything mentioned in the video (apart from the location part since that’s only functional in the United States at this point) fully works and more often than not without a hitch.

So if you’re not into the holiday spirit yet, check out Santa and his 3.7 billion appointments for New Year’s Eve. Perhaps that should take some load off your shoulders.