Did you know that Lebanon is a multi-faith country? There are six different Christian groups and four Muslim groups in the country, with a majority of Shiites. This accounts for the many popular festivals in Lebanon. Some of them are joint celebrations and others are exclusively Muslim. These are the main ones.
St. Maron was a Christian hermit, now sanctified, who dedicated himself to praying in the most absolute poverty. He welcomed all those who visited him with kindness and received the gift of healing the sick. Originally from Syria, he is a saint whose feast day is celebrated in Lebanon on 9 February.
The monastery of St. Maron, on the border with Syria, has caves carved into the rock where both the saint and his first followers lived.
Lebanon's popular festivities include a traditional Holy Week celebrated on the dates established by the Catholic Church and in which the six Christian groups carry out the traditional processions, running from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.
On 18 April 1996, the Israeli army carried out a massacre at a UN base in the town of Qana. To commemorate that day, and in honour of the victims, 18 April is a day of national mourning in Lebanon. This is not a festive day, and shops and other public places are closed on this date.
As in most parts of the world, 1 May is one of the popular holidays in Lebanon. It is celebrated with workers' demonstrations and the shops are closed.
One of the most celebrated festivals of the international Catholic community is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on 15 August.
This is also a Christian festival and a public holiday in Lebanon. The celebrations are private. Unlike the United States and, more recently, Europe, All Hallows' Eve, or Halloween, is not celebrated in Lebanon.
Lebanon gained independence from France in 1943, on 31 December. However, the date of celebration is 22 November, as this is the day when the right to independence was recognised by France. During the day there are military parades, similar to those of Spain's Día de la Hispanidad.
Lebanon celebrates Christmas on 25 December. For Christians in the country the date is celebrated in the Western way.
Also known as Eid al-Adha or Festival of the Sacrifice, Eid al-Kebir is the most important festival in the Muslim calendar. It commemorates the sacrifice of Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice the life of Isaac, his only son, to God. This episode appears in both the Bible and the Koran.
On the day of the feast, the Muslims reproduce the sacrifice of Isaac by slaughtering a lamb. This is the central tradition of this Lebanese holiday. Since not everyone can afford this sacrifice, only those Muslims who are able to purchase a lamb at least one year old and of reasonable size are obliged to celebrate Eid al-Kebir.
The sacrifice takes place on the tenth day of the month of Dhu l-hiyya, the day of the pilgrimage to Mecca, towards which the head of the animal must be pointed, and it must be kept awake during the celebration.
One of the popular festivities in Lebanon is Ras as-Sana or the Muslim New Year. This commemorates the journey that Muhammad and his companions made from Mecca to Medina in the year 622, which became the first Muslim year.
The Hegira does not involve any special religious celebrations, but the Muslim faithful do not go to work, because it is a holy day.
The day of Ashura commemorates one of the most important holidays in the Shiite calendar. It commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein and there are processions of the faithful who flagellate themselves and hit their heads with swords. In Lebanon, it is celebrated by Shiite Muslim communities and the processions are often as striking as those of the Catholic faithful, who also whip themselves at Easter.
Muhammad's birthday is as important to Muslims as Christmas is to Christians. During the early years of Islam, the celebration lasted a whole month and ended with torchlit processions and great festivities. Today it is a little more modest and includes a religious sermon and a great banquet.
Perhaps the best known festival of Islam is Ramadan, the month of fasting, when Muslims do not eat anything between sunrise and sunset. Unlike other religions, where fasting is a punishment, Muslims deprive themselves of food in order to get closer to God. This month marks the moment when God revealed the Koran to Muhammad.
Eid al-fitr is the day when Ramadan ends. It begins with breakfast and a very important moment dedicated to prayer. The rest of the day is spent visiting family and friends and offering them fine dishes. Gifts are also given to children who, although they do not fast, experience this festival in a very special way.