From Saint Barbara’s Celebration to the Ghoulish Halloween

The origins of the two different festivities, that we almost similarly celebrate.


A tradition believed to be particular to children
It is commonly known in Lebanon and the neighbouring countries, that Eid el-Burbara or Saint Barbara’s Day, is celebrated on December the 4th with the tradition of making Lebanese sweets such as katayif or the cooked wheat grains, served with a mix of nuts toppings. Children dress up in costumes and masks and go from one house to another, knocking doors to get their share of the home made sweets in a neighbourhood solidarity spirit. Over the years, this old traditional practice became more or less like the “trick-or-treating” of American Halloween rituals, practiced worldwide these days.

From a spiritual to a frightful aspect
The tradition of Saint Barbara’s day comes from the 3rd century, when the martyr Saint was living imprisoned by her father in a tower in Baalbek (Heliopolis at the time). The mask is meant to symbolise the different characters in which she disguised to elude her father and the Romans, who were looking for her as she fled condemned for becoming Christian.

Back to the American origin rituals, the best reference in this instance is Nicholas Rogers’ book; “Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night”. This book is recognised to be a thorough research about the origins and practices of Halloween over the time. Rogers notes at the beginning of his book that the etymology of Halloween’s festivities is undoubtedly Christian, being a derivative of “All Saints’ Day” celebrated on the 1st of November. However, this character of the festivities did not prevail; Halloween was associated for a long time with the practices of witchery and future telling, which explains the continuous reproduction of jack-o’-lanterns and scary looks.


From Children “trick-o’-treating” to daring and scaring looks!

Halloween and Barbara’s Day practices today
Whether we celebrate the original Eid el Berbara or the imported Halloween tradition, it is reasonable to see that it has some significance beyond being a social or cultural practice. Lebanese people find their evasion from the real issues of their world in their sarcastic memes, their comedy and satire shows.
Halloween must have proven to be a useful way for them, in expressing a different vision of a reality they can’t change. They are willingly celebrating it twice with all consideration of costs involved taken; from simple dress up parties to the more sophisticated and fancy ones.


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