Sister Ivy Khoury, Caritas Australia’s Africa Program Coordinator, splits her Christmas celebrations between her fellow Franciscan Missionaries of Mary and her large Lebanese extended family.
“For my family, I’d say that faith, hospitality and food are central to how we celebrate Christmas. I would generally go to midnight mass with my family, previously I’d enjoy a breakfast with my late Mum, then have a lunch with the Sisters and then dinner with my family. In between you do the rounds – I always visit relatives throughout the day.”
“The meals are extensive – everything you could imagine ordering from a Lebanese restaurant and then maybe even more. We don’t make the traditional roast turkey with the trimmings, although I’ll often have that with the Sisters. We have a variety of mezze for entrees that include pieces of kibbeh, spinach pies, houmous and eggplant followed by the main meal of chicken – and lots of salads including tabbouleh. These family meals can be absolutely huge. For example, if my sister invites just her family and her husband’s side of the family it’s easily 70 people.”
“You’re eating all day. Not just during the meals, but also when you visit other households and they offer you traditional Lebanese sweets – like maamoul (date-stuffed biscuits), baklava and other pastries drenched in honey and rosewater, atayef (pancakes stuffed with walnuts and cheese) and many other treats. My mum used to make everything herself but today people are more likely to buy them because they can be very labour intensive. I think that the Lebanese sweet shops nearly sell out over Christmas and Easter because everybody is buying so much!”
“In Arabic, we have a term – wejbet. It translates to something like social obligations, so we always invite family members who live alone to the big family meals so that they feel included. We also remember families who’ve lost loved ones and make sure that they feel supported and connected by visiting them during the day. My parent’s generation would uphold these traditions without even thinking, and in my generation, we still maintain these customs. This year, sadly I have about seven households in my family who’ve lost somebody, so I will try my best to get to at least three or four over Christmas and Boxing Day.”
“This year Christmas is bittersweet for the Lebanese-Australian community though, because our family members in Lebanon are experiencing one of the worst financial crises that the world has seen in decades. The prices for everything, but especially fuel, have skyrocketed, and now just buying normal groceries or filling the car with petrol is too expensive for everyday families.”
“It used to be that when times were tough in Lebanon, you would send money back, but the economic situation is so bad there now that even if you send money there’s no guarantee that they would be able to withdraw it from the banks, because the whole financial system is in ruin.”
“I know that my family, who live in the mountains, would normally come down for winter to escape the cold. But this year they won’t even have the petrol to come down from the mountains. Some of my first cousins are still there, and they’ve told me that this year Christmas really won’t be a celebration. They’ll try, in their own ways, to make the period special, especially by going to Christmas Mass, but it’s so difficult when you can’t afford food, presents or even to visit each other.”
“I’ve worked with Caritas Australia for over 15 years, and I’ve seen the amazing work that they can do all over the world, particular in Africa where I’ve spent a lot of my career. Now, it humbles me that the Caritas network is providing support to Caritas Lebanon. I’m so grateful that my own workplace, Caritas Australia, is able to support Caritas Lebanon now, when the people of Lebanon need our support so urgently.”
To support the United with Lebanon appeal through Caritas Australia, go to www.caritas.org.au/lebanon or call 1800 024 413 toll free.
All donations made through Caritas Australia are tax deductible. Funds raised go towards Mobile Medical Units, education and cash support for small business owners.