These are my mother’s words.
“I think I mentioned before the importance of New Year’s Eve as one of the major holidays. The first year in Beirut, some people were casually gathered in our home and they stayed and stayed. So I served coffee and what sweets I had. They stayed until the New Year came in.
That came to be a very important meeting of our church. So, this New Year of 1952-53 was of course also in our home (where the church regularly met for all services). We had a service that started around 8 with singing, testimonies, and sermons. Nearly every New Year, there would be someone who would make a profession of faith.
The tradition continued until we moved and then we had the New Year’s hafleh (party) in the basement of the school. Of course, we always had refreshments and a lot of the time spent in prayer. It is a beautiful tradition to have people dedicating themselves to the Lord as they ring in the New Year. This has remained a very strong tradition in our churches in Lebanon and it began in our church home.”
Juxtapose my mom’s humble eloquence to my youthful recollections. New Year’s eve in Lebanon is all about night-watch parties. Yes, I too recall the same vignette, the cafeteria in the basement of the Beirut Baptist School (BBS). However, my recollections seem to be more about the party atmosphere!
I smell dark coffee brewing as we children clattered down the tiled steps of the school in anticipation of games, skits, sing-a longs, and vocal performances of poetry and hymns, and reel-to-reel, clickety-clack, black and white bible story movies.
I inhale the scrumptious aromas of food trays being displayed by the church ladies:
1. Individual meat, spinach, and cheese pies each delicately folded into their unique designs indicating their signature savory content.
2. Rows and rows of garlic roasted chicken pita sandwiches (arooses) wrapped in wax paper, precisely lined up ready to be grabbed by hungry children who had been told all day to “save your appetite!”
3. Abundant displays of fresh and dried fruits interspersed with assorted bowls of roasted nuts and seeds competed with each other in a kaleidoscope of color.
4. The sweets were the best! Platters of sweet pastries included flakey baklava, petit fours dipped in chocolate and nuts and filled with apricot jam, short bread rollups stuffed with dates and coated in sesame seeds, bite-size melt-in-your-mouth white cookies topped with one perfect pistachio, and small, fried, dough balls drenched in rose-water syrup. My mouth waters just thinking about the “refreshments!”
Also on entry into the gathering, I notice the older youth off in a corner practicing their skits, poems, and songs, especially the young men’s quartet. I barely glance at the older men in another grouping with their worry beads and bibles brushing up on memory verses.
The air is crackling with excitement and lots of greetings: cheek kisses (three in a row), slaps on the back, warm hugs, and mothers reprimanding us children to behave (as if!!!).
But my most treasured memory is escaping to the playground with my best friend, Ibtisam, as soon as we sensed the men warming up to pray. We used the excuse of a restroom break! She and I would scamper out to the playground area and stroll arm in arm around the perimeter of the volleyball courts, our freezing cold hands tucked in each other’s coat pockets, staring up at the clear cold night illuminated by a million stars, whispering, giggling, and all around reminiscing over the past year and voicing our dreams for the year to come as if we were the most important kids in the universe!
With whom will you stroll arm-in-arm into the new year?
The old year closes. A new year knocks. Help us to open ourselves to you, to trust, to throw our lives into your arms of love, to help us be instruments of your love, goodness, kindness, compassion, and truth.