Maaloulians begin festivities to commemorate the birth of Jesus at dusk on Dec. 9 with special chants. This marks the beginning of a 15-day fast during which no meat and no dairy products are consumed. On Christmas Eve, which is usually bitterly cold, there is a complete fast to represent Christ's sacrifice, followed by an evening feast at which presents are given to all the village children, followed by a night of praying and dancing.
Christmas is one of the most treasured times for Rana Wehbe, who greets visitors to Ma'aloula's Byzantine Convent of St. Serge and St. Bacchus.
And this is interesting:
Locals such as Wehbe and the village's mayor, Azar Sikris Barkil, are convinced that they could have spoken with the Al Masih as the Messiah is known in Aramaic. The convent's superior, Father Toufik Eid, who is from Lebanon, is not so sure.
"The difficulty with saying that Jesus would understand this is that every language evolves and this one has had 2,000 years to evolve," said Father Eid. "We believe that Jesus spoke Aramaic, but he also spoke Hebrew, and possibly Greek and Latin."
The Aramaic spoken by Jesus in Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion of the Christ, was written by a Catholic priest and academic from California.
Nobody in Ma'aloula has apparently seen the film. However, those who had seen brief clips from it said that they could not understand any of what was said to be Aramaic.
Actually, Al Masih is Arabic for "the Messiah." For more on Ma'aloula, go here.