I love reading and writing. I came to writing late in life and discovered a world where I feel like a fish in the water.
Sitting alone on the eve of January 6th, Nathalie was overwhelmed with a sense of sadness and nostalgia. Everyone is gone. No one is left to share the traditional Dayem Dayem feast with me.
Expecting a Visit
Nathalie was a Lebanese Maronite Christian. Her community held the belief that Christ stop by their homes at midnight every January 6th to say, “Dayem Dayem”. This meant that Christ gave them His blessing and graces that will continue forever, or at least until the next year.
Nathalie’s mother had been a devout Maronite, keen on respecting religious conventions and celebrating traditional feasts. The Dayem Dayem feast was close to her heart.
On the eve of January 6th, children in Maronite households took a shower in the early evening, put on their pajamas, and gathered around the parents to pray. Then, they went to bed while the parents kept vigil all night praying in silence.
According to tradition, the doors of heaven open at midnight on January 6th. Trees of all kinds bow to the passing Christ.
While waiting for Christ to pass by their homes and give His blessings, Maronite families made yeast, placed it in a cloth bag and hung it outside. The light was kept on all night outside to welcome the passing Christ. Some families broke a piece of glass to protect against evil spirits. During the day, the children took bottles of water to church to get them blessed to sprinkle their homes with holy water.
The morning after, Nathalie used to feel as if something sacred and special had taken place. She also looked forward to the customary sweets that her mother prepared such as Ouwaymet, Zlabieh, and Maacaroon. The food was called “the blessing of the feast”, a symbol of Christ, the bread of life, who rose from the dead and ascended to heaven.
Nathalie smiled at one particular memory. As a child, she loved the stories that her grandmother told the children. On chilly winter evenings, the children would sit around a small fire looking at their grandmother’s beautiful face, waiting for a story before going to bed.
On one particular evening, after the children had been unusually disruptive and disobedient, she gathered them and said, “One day a year, whatever you do that day, you end up repeating it for 365 days in a row.”
“Which day?” a child asked.
“No one knows. That’s the mystery. You have to watch your behavior and mind your thoughts all year long because it could be any day.”
“What happens if we don’t?”
“You’ll find out if you don’t. Take it from me, you better behave well and listen to your parents.”
Nathalie the child felt intrigued and excited at the same time. She had been vigilant ever since that evening.
A Familiar Face
They’re all gone. I wish I had gone with them. She hung the bag of cloth outside and made sure that the external light was on. She then sat down and prepared herself for the all-night vigil.
A gentle knock at the door. Who could it be? She peered through the door screen, and her heart did a double take when she saw the familiar face.
Standing outside her door was someone she thought she would never see again. A man who left the priesthood to marry Christiane, her best friend since childhood. Christiane had distanced herself from Nathalie after her marriage. She and her husband were supposed to be in Australia.
He said after greeting her, “Come and join us for the feast and night vigil. Christiane and I are alone, and we’d be happy to have you with us.”
Someone from her past came in the night to enquire after her and invite her to join his family. Her eyes welled with tears and she sent a prayer of thanks to Heaven for sparing her loneliness in such an auspicious night.
She remembered her grandmother’s cautionary tale what you do on the Dayem Dayem will repeat itself for an entire year. Nathalie was no longer afraid of being lonely. She was going to have friends who knew her and shared her sacred traditions.
The feast of the Epiphany on January 6th is a day in the life of the Maronite Catholic Christians with special social and spiritual symbols and traditions.
Importance of Traditions
Traditions are important to cultures. They are the foundation of families and societies. If we pay no attention to our traditions, we run the risk of losing our identity.
Tradition gives us a sense of comfort and belonging. It brings families together and helps people to reconnect with friends[i].
[i] “7 Reasons Why Traditions Are So Important” by Frank Sonnenberg. https://www.franksonnenbergonline.com. June 30, 2015.
© 2021 Liliane Najm