Culinary Christmas traditions in the Holy Land
By BEATA ANDONIA, TRAVELUJAH
Christmas celebrations consist of more than just trees; delicious local holiday treats are also an important part the festivities.
Christmas is a time of celebration and reunion. Therefore, it is a
common practice among Holy Land Christian communities to visit members
of their families and neighbors during this festive period. The families
visit in two groups – one family will visit while another is hosting
guests at home.
It can be useful to know the specific traditions when visiting local Christian families. When entering a home, it is appropriate for the
guest to admire all the beautiful Christmas decorations, lights,
Christmas tableware, and, of course, the very decorative Christmas trees
with mghrara – a cave representing the Nativity scene, made from
colorful paper and containing olive wood figures of the Holy Family,
Magi and shepherds.
Mamoul and Ghraibeh Cookies
In many houses, the hostess will display a big bowl of freshly baked Christmas cookies, such as mamoul or ghraibeh.
is a type of Middle Eastern butter cookie filled usually with date
paste (ajweh), and typically prepared on religious holidays. The dough
is made from semolina (smeed), which is a coarse, purified wheat
middling of durum wheat.
Other ingredients used to make mamoul
include rose water and mistka spice, which give it a very distinct
taste. Some bakers will fill their mamoul cookies with walnuts or
pistachios and then sprinkle them with powdered sugar.
is another Middle Eastern shortbread sweet. Its main ingredients include
semolina, pictachio nuts, butter, sugar and orange blossom. They are
usually formed in as shape of a letter ‘S’ and decorated with one full
Chocolate and Liqueur
tradition is to offer a Christmas chocolate, often in a shape of Santa
Claus and a shot of a high quality liqueur, sweet wine or arak - an
Traditionally, it is not polite to refuse
anything offered, however it is acceptable to say no to an alcoholic
drink. The chocolate or a cookie can be taken home for consumption
Arabic coffee is very strong, and therefore served in very small cups.
It is usually freshly grounded with a couple of cardamon seeds, which
makes it very aromatic. Offering coffee to a guest is a polite way of
saying goodbye,“ma’ salameh.” If a person offers a coffee at the
beginning of a meeting, he needs to add that it is a welcome
coffee,“kahwehahla w sahla,” otherwise a guest might understand that he
is not welcome at the moment.
Qidreh or Malfouf
Christmas Day family members gather for a big meal together. Usually
meals are very rich. It is common to prepare Qidreh, lamb meat cooked
with rice in special wood fired oven. Often it can be ordered from
places that specialize in making it. Qidreh is always served with leban,
which is a thick yogurt.
families prepare malfouf – rice mixed with minced meat rolled in
cabbage leaves. The rolls are small in size, that is why this dish needs
a lot of time and work, but it tastes delicious. Most people like it
topped with lemon juice to make it sourer.
Christians from Bethlehem open their houses to international
visitors. It is recommended to experience Christmas in Bethlehem, the
town where Jesus was born, by staying with a Bethlehem family and learn
about their traditions.
BeataAndonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.