When they tell you stories about magical nights and heartwarming eves with the big family united around the chimney and the Christmas tree, tell them about this small population that you once belonged to, which refused - no matter the circumstances - not to celebrate the year-end holidays.
As if the country wasn’t plunging into darkness, on all levels.
As if families aren’t still grieving their August 2020 blast victims.
As if the nation isn’t fighting a catastrophic financial and - soon enough - sanitary crisis.
Nothing could stop the Lebanese on this night. Especially not the irrational supermarket prices, and the meals that would cost them a kidney or two.
Drinking wine, eating baked potatoes and chestnuts, while savoring some of the most royale dinner tables among the cousins, the tetas and jeddos, and the euro/dollar-filled expatriates coming home for the holidays have become an annual tradition. And it wouldn’t be Lebanese without the recurrent, cringy, uncomfortable questions that pop up on this night: “aymatan ra7 nefrah mennak/ek?”, “fi chi 3al tari2?”, “nchalla sent el jeye bi sir 3endo khay/ekhet.”
Nobody could beat the videos of children surprising their parents on Christmas. No matter how silly you might find them, trust me, now that I’m away from ‘home’, the whole thing takes another dimension. An emotional one. Specifically, when you are denied to do the same to your family. Not because you did not want to. But because France did not want you to.
Struggling with administrative papers, and stuck here while things get sorted out, I cannot on this night but think about all the people suffering my fate. I envy every one of you traveling to Lebanon tonight. I wish I could do the same. I really do. Cause nothing beats Christmas around the family in this small piece of land. No matter how far you go, and no matter how disgusted of this nation you are, there will always be this magical thing about the holidays there that you cannot find anywhere else.
And while the airplane tickets ravage their pockets and COVID19 their lungs, nothing will stop the Lebanese from riding back with a lot of enthusiasm to meet those faces they have longed to see and vice versa, with their luggage filled - this time around - with medications, clothes, and food.
While contemplating all of this from afar, I spare a thought to those families out there that cannot reunite. Either because their kids cannot come home, or because they cannot leave the country to meet them abroad, for all reasons combined. Maybe for once, ironically, I will thank the government for keeping - till now - the internet connection alive back there, for tonight is going to be spent behind my phone’s screen, sending fake smiles, virtual kisses and hugs to my small circle, and text messages to my bigger one, as if everything is alright out here. But they will never know that I’ll be, at 31, hugging a little teddy bear that I have named Plavix in my tiny apartment in France, while going through - with a lot of jealousy yet happiness - the stories of my followers on social media, and cursing the authorities for denying me the opportunity to do the same tonight.