Arabic Language Blog

Runaway Barbara (هاشلة بربارة): A Happy Halloween!! Posted by on Oct 31, 2012 in Arabic Language, Culture

While everyone is busy preparing their costumes and stacking up their candy, children in the Arab world, and specifically the Levant – Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon – impatiently await December 4 to celebrate their own version of Halloween, Saint Barbara’s Holiday( عيد القديسة بربارة).


While the carving of pumpkins (لقطين) is not as popular in the Levant, children disguise (تنكر) in different costumes as they go from door to door asking for trick or treat ( حلويات العيد).


The treats are a traditional recipe ‘katayif’ (قطايف) and they consist of a soft dough (عجينة) filled with nuts ( جوز) and pistachios (فستق حلبي) and topped with a sweet syrup (قطر). In some villages, the Barbara Sweet consists of boiled wheat(قمح) , raisins (زبيب) , anise (يانسون), pomegranate seeds (بذر الرِّمان) , and sugar(سكر), which is also offered as a trick or treat to children in disguise.


Their bellies filled with sweets, the children go around the city singing the traditional song of Saint Barbara’s Holiday to commemorate forever her story.

The myth tells of a young girl, Barbara, who wishes to spend her life in the service of God but whose father has betrothed to a pagan (وثني) prince. She runs off to escape her unwanted marriage and Roman persecution (اضطهاد) by disguising herself with different costumes to hide her identity. As the story goes and the song narrates, she is eventually recognized through her eyes (عينيها) and her bracelet. The boiled wheat that is eaten on the eve of Barbara festival is a reference to the fields of wheat that she used to hide herself in to escape persecution.

Christian children around the Arab world celebrate her life through imitating her disguises so that her martyrdom (شهادة) for her faith does not go by unremembered.  A runaway Barbara is thus remembered through this holiday that resembles Western Halloween which we celebrate today.



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About the Author: jesa

Salam everyone! Born as an American to two originally Arab parents, I have been raised and have spent most of my life in Beirut, Lebanon. I have lived my good times and my bad times in Beirut. I was but a young child when I had to learn to share my toys and food with others as we hid from bombs and fighting during the Lebanese Civil War. I feel my connection to Arabic as both a language and culture is severing and so it is with you, my readers and fellow Arabic lovers, and through you that I wish to reestablish this connection by creating one for you.