Pandemic forces low-key Christmas tree lighting in Byblos, Lebanon

Covid-19, economic crisis and fall-out from the August 4 blast in Beirut mute celebrations this year

Byblos hosts modest Christmas celebration amid economic crisis and pandemic

Byblos hosts modest Christmas celebration amid economic crisis and pandemic
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Christmas celebrations in the Lebanese town of Byblos are usually a global spectacle and the coastal city north of Beirut traditionally prides itself on having grand decorations and record-setting trees during the winter holidays.

But this year the town downsized the occasion.

Instead of revealing an immense pine tree this Christmas season, the municipality in Jbail, also known as Byblos, organised a small gathering on Monday and lit 100 trees and bushes for Lebanon's centennial. The event was attended by about 100 people instead of the usual thousands.

"Christmas is filled with sadness this year," Fawaz, a Byblos resident, told The National.

The city, one of the oldest constantly inhabited communities in the world, is a famed tourist destination and Unesco World Heritage site. It is home to a restored old neighbourhood as well as a vibrant nightlife. Located less than an hour by car from the capital, Byblos is a prized getaway destination for Beirutis.

Christmas in Beirut 

But in the past year, the combined effect of the country’s financial meltdown, the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and a devastating explosion that tore through the capital, annihilated the tourism sector and Lebanon’s appetite for celebrations.

“This is not the Jbail we know. This is not the Lebanon we want,” Fawaz said.

“We need change, everyone means everyone,” he said in reference to a slogan used by anti-government protesters, who have been demanding the fall of everyone in the ruling elite since last October.

Lebanese politicians are widely accused of corruption and failing to stop the country from total economic and social collapse.

While Byblos held a quiet celebration, demonstrations in Beirut briefly blocked a road as rumours that subsidies on flour would be lifted began to circulate. Lebanon’s cash-strapped Central Bank is low on foreign currency reserves needed to import vital goods such as wheat, flour and fuel.

Jbail’s municipality re-used last year’s Christmas decorations, and did not spend any of its budget on the festive event.

"Everything has changed" Josiane, 25, a resident, told The National. "But I am glad we are able to celebrate despite the circumstances. At least we get to feel like it's Christmas."