After my day of trekking all over the universe with Badveli (you can read my last post HERE), all I wanted to do was sit on their comfy couch like a huge bum and go to sleep early. There was only one problem… it was Armenian Christmas Eve, and I was signed up to join the youth/young adult group in their overnight caroling. It’s a good thing that I really wanted to go because otherwise, I don’t know how I would have made it through the night. I took a 50ish minute nap when we got home and then dragged myself out of bed, feeling fresh, rested, and ready for some late-night singing! HA! That’s not true. I basically rolled out of bed and then zombied around for at least the next 45 minutes until my body woke up.
Unlike most of the other Christians in Lebanon, the Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 6th. I’ll give you the five-second explanation of why that is… everyone used to celebrate on the 6th of January. In the Roman Empire, there was a pagan holiday celebrating the birth of the sun on the 25th of December. They changed it to the celebration of the birth of the Son (hehe) and left January 6th as the Epiphany, or the revelation of Christ as God in the flesh. Armenians celebrate the birth and revelation of Christ on the same day (which is why the Armenian Christmas greeting says, “Christ is born AND revealed”) because they weren’t part of the Roman Empire and didn’t have the same pagan holiday problem.
Anyway, like I was saying, most of the Christians in Lebanon celebrate on December 25th. Since there’s such a significant Armenian population though, they leave up the Christmas decorations until January 6th, and Badveli said that they even replay the Christmas programming on TV! Isn’t that cool? It was also nice for me because it meant that I got to see the Christmas decorations even though I didn’t get to Lebanon until January.
Speaking of Christmas decorations, we saw a ton of nativity scenes that didn’t quite get my stamp of approval. One thing that threw me off was that they were always in a cave instead of a barn-type structure like we usually show in the States. I didn’t have an issue with that, it was just interesting. Since I was with Badveli, of course that launched into a discussion about how we don’t actually know that it was a barn and it could have been a cave and it could have even been in a house because people often kept their animals inside their houses at night. Then that led to a discussion about how the way the Christmas story is told always makes it sound like a pregnant Mary was turned away from inn after inn by heartless innkeepers, but probably “there was no room for them” just means that there wasn’t an empty guest room, so they stayed in the living room with the animals which wasn’t a weird thing at the time. Yeah, I know. Brain cramp. I’ll stop.
Okay, back to the issue at hand… I did have one very big problem with most of them: scale. Picture this: a manger scene. Mary and Joseph. The wise men. A baby Jesus that is AT LEAST the size of Mary, if not larger. A sheep that is smaller than baby Jesus. The donkey that supposedly carried pregnant Mary for months and months is smaller than everything. I’m no expert, but a baby cannot be bigger than its mother. I know he’s God in human form and all, but that means he’s human… which means that at birth, he’s a normal baby size in relation to his mother. He is not bigger than a sheep. He is definitely not bigger than a donkey. He is definitely not bigger than a tree, unless that tree is just a seed. My favorite nativity looked like everyone in the congregation just brought in whatever animal figurines they had at home. It had some normal-sized sheep, some tiny ones, some plastic ones, some stuffed ones… I enjoyed it.
Wow so I’ve gotten veryyyy distracted. What was I talking about before I got all sidetracked? Do you even remember at this point? Oops. That’s right, caroling! So like I was saying long, long ago, I was signed up for Christmas Eve caroling. I guess this is something that all of the church youth groups do, and everyone seemed confused when I told them that I hadn’t been caroling in years, and midnight Christmas caroling isn’t really a thing at home. Basically this is how it works: the youth group is split into groups, each group is given a list of church members’ addresses, and they go from house to house caroling and getting donations. Unlike sane people who would do this during the day, we met at the church at 8PM(ish) and didn’t hit the road until about 9. We had something like 30 houses to visit and quickly fell into a rhythm of unloading ourselves from the van, getting buzzed into the building, singing a couple of songs, reciting a Bible verse, giving them the custom-made ornament that was this year’s gift, getting stuffed full of chocolates, and loading back into the van. I got so much chocolate that it was kind of like Christmas-style Halloween but with singing.
Badveli and Maria promised me that I wouldn’t have any trouble communicating because the other youth (for them, youth means like teenage to 30) could all speak English. They were right, and it was almost depressing. Everyone could speak PERFECT English. Like accent-less English. The kids in my group were telling each other wordplay jokes in English. Once you know a language well enough to understand jokes that are only funny if you see the double meanings of the words that are used, I’d say you have a pretty solid grasp on it. Then, they’d switch effortlessly right back into Armenian. And they didn’t speak much Arabic that night, but they’re obviously all perfectly fluent in that too. Meanwhile, I’m like, “I kind of speak some Spanish (though not anymore since it’s completely confused with Armenian) and some Armenian… but Eastern Armenian, not Western which means I only understand like 20% of what you say instead of the 40% I would understand if you were speaking Eastern.” Talk about depressing.
Then, I had to attempt to sing Christmas carols in Armenian while reading fast enough to keep up. I did kind of okay… by the end, I was hitting maybe 90% of the words, so we’ll call that a win. I also didn’t realize until almost the last house of the night that most of my group thought I knew ZERO Armenian. I’m at least slightly better than that. A couple of the people in my group were joking about something in Armenian, and I chimed in in English. They all stared at me like I had 6 heads until someone said, “I thought you couldn’t speak Armenian.” HA! I explained that I’m learning and my Eastern is better than my Western but I can understand some and blah blah blah. I know it’s kind of stupid to be excited that I exceeded expectations when the expectations were so embarrassingly low, but hey, I’m going to take what I can get.
I also was apparently expected to fall asleep because “that’s what people do their first time out”. I can proudly say that I stayed awake the whole time, sang at every house, and once again exceeded the embarrassingly low expectations that were set for me.
By the time I got home and to bed, it was 6AM. Church was at 10AM, but Badveli and Maria told me that I could skip if I was too tired. I was going to try to go… until I set my alarm and my phone helpfully told me that my alarm was “set for 3 hours from now.” HAHAHAHAHAHA no chance. I reset it for noon instead, giving me a solid 6-hour night. Still ew, but infinitely better than 3 hours.