Since Easter in Middle East 2021 was yesterday, we thought it’d be fun if we shared the varied ways Christian Arabs observe their Holy Day. Thus, today we’ll look at how the Middle East has celebrated the day Christ rose from the dead 2,000 years ago.
Christians in the Middle East call Easter “the big holiday” compared to Christmas, which is a smaller celebration here. One reason it’s called the big holiday is that it begins 40 days before Easter which Christians call “Lent”. Within those 40 days, Arab Christians forego eating dairy and meat products. Also, you won’t see weddings and other such festive times during Lent as its serves to remind Christians of how Christ suffered.
A week before eid al fash (“Easter” in Arabic) there is Palm Sunday. This is a day when the whole family dresses their best. Then, as ahd alshaeanin (Palm Sunday) services start, children file into the church carrying these huge candles that have been decorated with flowers and olive branches. Incidentally, for those asking, “How do you say ‘Happy Palm Sunday’ in Arabic?” it’s “saeid alnakhil al’ahad!”
Families attend church services all week with the apex being Good Friday, or “jinazat almasih” (Good Friday in Arabic). Finally, the festivities end on Easter Sunday, usually followed by a couple days vacation.
Traditionally, families celebrate Easter by making date-filled shortbread cookies for their guests known as ma’amoul. Of course, they also make a few for themselves as they are the perfect treat after fasting through Lent. Ma’amoul is made from the dough of wheat flour or semolina that pressed into these beautifully carved molds before baking. Usually, Christian women will spend long hours making them during Holy Week. In some countries, Christians will even send some to their Muslim neighbors as a gesture of good will. In return, Muslims will do the same during their holidays.
So, why is ma’amoul so special at Easter? Well, the cookies actually represent the Easter Sunday story. You see, the outside of the cookie symbolizes Christ lying in the tomb. On the other hand, the inside is an explosion of sweetness to symbolize the resurrection of Jesus on the third day.
Perhaps you’ve heard people greet each other with the traditional greeting on Easter: “al massih qam” (Jesus is risen from the dead). The correct response to this greeting is “haqqan qam” (He has truly risen). You can use that if you happen to be a Christian attending Easter service in the Arab speaking world.