Seasonal cheer at Batroun Christmas Festival

BATROUN, Lebanon: A pathway of white lights leads to a giant Christmas tree, lighting the night sky outside the Batrouniyat Restaurant at this year’s Batrouniyat Christmas Festival along the northern Lebanese coast.

Christmas cheer is in the air here at this year’s festival, an annual occurrence that is fun for the whole family. The giant Christmas tree is decorated with only white lights and is surrounded by young children and their parents as they pose for photos. On top, in the Christmas tradition, is the outline of a white star. Kids zip by chasing each other across the lush green grass, taking full advantage of the open space.

Across from the Christmas tree is a black stage where young women in red and white-checkered dresses dance the cancan. Behind them are cartoony cutouts of elves, Christmas trees and model red houses. The dancers skip into the crowd and hold a microphone for children to sing popular Christmas songs like “Jingle Bells” in French and English. Adults in the large crowd sit on white plastic chairs lined in front of a stage, while small children stand on chairs and dance along to the music.

Peter Awad stands alone, watching the show and laughs when asked if he was with his family. “I’m here for my daughter,” he says, indicating that the charm of the festival might not be the best place for a bachelor. Awad’s neighbors suggested he check out the festival and he says his daughter enjoyed dancing to the music.

Up a short flight of stairs, next to the restaurant, stands sell saj, roasted chestnuts and crepes. There are tables where families sit enjoying wine, whiskey or nargileh. A classical nativity scene is set up next to the tables where visitors pose for photos with a model of baby Jesus. Behind it, an elaborate playground is filled with children bouncing, sliding, running and doing all the activities kids like to do and parents enjoy because it gives them a break.

“It’s going back to tradition and at the same time the kids enjoy the variety of activities,” Rosine Abi Rizk says, standing alongside her children. “It’s fun for all and there is a great Christmas spirit.”

Inside the typical Lebanese Batrouniyat building, which was constructed by the Ottomans in 1908, the Christmas market comes to life. Tables with Christmas decorations straddle the entrance as people sit and enjoy Lebanese food in an open restaurant area. There is a photobooth area where a professional photographer snaps pictures in front of a Christmassy setting of apples, stuffed animals, wines, white lights and other ornaments. There are also the various stands that include candles, wines, soaps, dolls, liqueurs, cookies, candies and other festive trinkets.

There are certainly the finer things in life on display.

Adults stand in the corner swirling their glasses and tasting wine from one of the wide range of Batrouni varieties, including Phoenix. A tasting station for foie gras is also set up in the back next to the wines. Handmade artisanal items are on display, including a number of Lebanese designs, like little Phoenician figures that are popular in local homes.

There is also a selection of artwork for sale including everything from paintings to festively painted teacups and drinking glasses.

At one particular station sits Stephanie Audi as she knits for a crowd. Sitting next to her is an assortment of colorful handmade beanies with a bobble or “pompom” on top.

“I started knitting six or seven years ago while stuck in the mountains during snowstorms,” she tells The Daily Star. After being taught to knit by a friend her style came to life when she spent time in Switzerland and “fell in love with yarn.”

While not initially from Batroun, a local friend of Audi’s suggested she reach out to the market’s organizers in order to display her work there.

Overall the festival emits a happy holiday cheer enjoyable for the entire family. Abi Rizk says her kids enjoy that “there’s wide and open space so the kids can dance and roam free.” She says the general atmosphere was her favorite part. “[I like] the wandering free, the listening to music, and enjoying the good weather.”

The Batrouniyat Christmas Market runs until Dec. 31 at the Batrouniyat Restaurant in the northern coastal town of Batroun.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 09, 2014, on page 2.




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