Saint Barbara is the Lebanese Halloween counterpart, minus the spooky side. Although Halloween has been celebrated in Lebanon for a few years now, by an inspiration from the west, the “trick or treating” is still done by kids on December 4th.
Saint Barbara is celebrated at that date, to commemorate how Barbara – a pagan noblewoman turned Christian- fled her father who was trying to kill her because she denied the gods. Barbara hid from her father by painting her face and wearing disguise. Thus the kids celebrate that by wearing disguises and singing specific songs when doors open for them. Although there is no real trick, there is always a treat for the kids: most commonly it is small money bills or coins given after the chants. There are even thank you songs that might call you cheap if the kids did not like how much you offered.
Some people do offer a pastry made for the occasion: Katayef.
Katayef are mainly flour dough, shaped like a small pancake, filled with clotted cream or walnuts. The dough is usually purchased at pastry shops, so is the clotted cream. The walnut mixture is usually made at home, it consists of crushed walnuts, some sugar, a little rose water and a dash orange blossom water.
What differentiates walnut Katayef from the cream ones are the size and the fact that the latter stay partly open and are covered with crushed pistachios and sour orange blossom jam and served with a light sugar syrup on the side, since the clotted cream is not sweetened. Although some eat the walnuts filled Katayef with sugar syrup for extra sweetness.
I don’t know why Katayef are a Saint Barbara’s dessert but they are sure a colorful, delicious way to celebrate, but don’t worry they are found all year round in Lebanon’s pastry shops.
One more traditional food for Saint Barbara’s is cooked wheat. Wheat is usually boiled and flavored with anise seeds bundled in a cotton cloth.
Wheat is usually served hot with some sugar, raisins and a variation of nuts (walnuts, pistachios, almonds, pine nuts) previously soaked in ice water to restore their crunchiness and moisture. Sour pomegranates are a common addition that adds a delectable tartness to the ensemble. It can be a very healthy breakfast actually, not to mention it is quite tasty.
Wheat is served because Barbara hid from her father at some point in wheat fields.
I could not find the detailed version of the story online but if you like to read more about the Feast of Saint Barbara follow these links:
Another tradition for the day is to plant wheat or beans on damp cotton in small containers, to decorate the Christmas nativity scene. It seems that the tradition is one from Provence according the above article, but it is not surprising that Lebanon carries it on, for it has been under French mandate for quite a long time and a lot of French traditions are instilled in the daily life and festivities.
Officially this is the start of the holiday season in Lebanon, although Christmas decoration and items find their way to the stores at the end of October.
*Trick or Treat Lebanese way