One wonders whether Christmas is about the hysteria of shopping and what one receives or the dinner one has to prepare…or attend. Some Western traditions have been adopted in Middle Eastern cities like Beirut, where such delicacies as the bûche de Noël (Yule-log cake), marrons glacés (glazed chestnuts) and chocolates are modern-day clichés that have replaced our own Christian traditions that have replaced the true traditions of our Christian origins
During my grandparents’ era, “meghli” was the Christmas delicacy, and the Gardens of Adonis were planted for decor. Meghli is a Middle Eastern rice pudding made with rice flour and flavoured with cinnamon, aniseed and caraway. Served in small bowls, the pudding is topped with blanched almonds, pistachios and pine nuts.
Meghli is prepared to celebrate a newborn in the family, and it’s offered to visiting family and neighbours. Its preparation is usually the domain of both grandmothers, giving them one more reason to compete for affection in typical Middle Eastern style.
In the mountains, meghli was the one and only Christmas treat – after all, wasn’t Christ a newborn? And shouldn’t His glorious birth be celebrated the same as one of our own?
It is said that this brown pudding is symbolic of the fertile rich soil, and the nuts on top are like seeds that will sprout and grow on this soil – a perfect symbol for a Christmas birth and for every newborn at home.
As for Christmas decorations, it was simply the Gardens of Adonis. This is an ancient pagan tradition, older than Christian times, that symbolizes the cycle of life: the birth, life and eventual death of Adonis, the god.
The Gardens of Adonis were planted on December 5, the Berbara. (Saint Barbara is the Lebanese version of Halloween – without the Western meanings and rituals.) Plates would be laid out with a layer of wet cotton, and the seeds– wheat, lentils and chickpeas – would be embedded in the cotton and watered. The seeds would grow in 20 days time and become the green fields used to decorate the Nativity scene.
So while we may be seduced by Western delicacies, reviving the meghli is a meaningful celebration that we can delight in.