“Heyshlee Barbara”

post 277/365


“Barbara the beautiful

Had praise of lute and pen:

Her hair was like a summer night

Dark and desired of men.

Her feet like birds from far away

That linger and light in doubt;

And her face was like a window

Where a man’s first love looked out.

Her sire was master of many slaves

A hard man of his hands;

They built a tower about her

In the desolate golden lands,

Sealed as the tyrants sealed their tombs,

Planned with an ancient plan,

And set two windows in the tower

Like the two eyes of a man…”

(The Ballad of St. Barbara by Gilbert Keith Chesterton)

December marks one of my favorite traditions, the feast of Saint Barbara. Palestinian, Syrian, Turkish, Jordanian, and Lebanese Christians celebrate this feast every year beginning on December 4 for Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox Christians.

Saint Barbara was a Martyr who lived in the fourth century. Her father was a rich man and they lived in Heliopolis which is modern day Baalabek in Lebanon. Barbara was extraordinarily beautiful and her father built a tower to hide her. From the tower, there was a view of hills stretching into the distance. The desire to know the true God consumed her soul. A priest disguised as a merchant came to the city. After instructing her in the mysteries of the Christian Faith, he baptized Barbara.

When her father learnt that she was a Christian he grabbed a sword and almost struck her with it. Barbara fled, but her father rushed after her. The general belief among Middle Eastern Christians is that Saint Barbara disguised herself in many different characters to escape the Romans who were persecuting her. Thus the tradition of dressing up was created. While fleeing from the Romans, Barbara supposedly also ran through a freshly planted wheat field, which grew instantly behind her to magically cover her path. This miracle is recreated symbolically today by planting wheat seeds (or chick peas, barley grains, beans, lentils) in little pots. The seeds germinate and grow quickly to around 6 inches in time for Christmas. Then the shoots are used to decorate the nativity scene usually placed below the Christmas tree. Baalbek’s community also considers the sprouting wheat a symbol of fertility.

Finally, her father found her and handed her over to the prefect of the city. St. Barbara was tortured. Barbara’s father delivered the fatal blow to his own daughter and beheaded her. She died by the sword, but her killers were struck down by lightning, so she is often called on for protection from lightning and from violent and unpredictable death and her festival is celebrated rather like Halloween.

The Lebanese celebrate Eid el Barbara (which literary means the Feast of Barbara) on the eve of December 3rd in commemoration of her martyrdom on the 4th.

Arab Christians mark the occasion with the Burbara dish (named after her), a bowl of boiled wheat grains, pomegranate seeds, raisins, anise and sugar. Some people believe this is in remembrance of the time when Barbara was locked up in a storeroom and only had wheat berries to eat. It is offered to children who dress up in costumes and masks in her remembrance, accompanied by a derbake, and go from house to house screaming “heyshlee Barbara”, imploring Barbara to run away.

Although historically, wheat berry porridge was prepared by Christians in this area to celebrate all the Saint’s holidays, with time these celebrations decreased and only few kept the custom of preparing the wheat berries porridge during those days. But for the Saint Barbra’s day, it is different as many Christian see it as marking the start of Christmas celebrations and so the habit of preparing the porridge continued and with time it got its famous name of today “Burbara”.

“Caesar smiled above the gods,

His lip of stone was curled,

His iron armies wound like chains

Round and round the world,

And the strong slayer of his own

That cut down flesh for grass,

Smiled too, and went to his own tower

Like a walking tower of brass,

And the songs ceased and the slaves were dumb;

And far towards the foam

Men saw a shadow on the sands;

And her father coming home….

Blood of his blood upon the sword

Stood red but never dry.

He wiped it slowly, till the blade

Was blue as the blue sky.

But the blue sky split with a thunder-crack,

Spat down a blinding brand,

And all of him lay back and flat

As his shadow on the sand.”

(The Ballad of St. Barbara by Gilbert Keith Chesterton)

Burbara recipe: (I kind of add more ingredients to it)


  • 500g crushed peeled (shelled) wheat
  • 200g light sultanas
  • 200g dried apricots
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons fennel
  • 2 teaspoons anise
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • Crushed walnuts
  • Crushed almonds
  • 18 to 20 tablespoons sugar (optional according to taste)
  • (Coconut shaving to decorate)
  • Pomegranate seeds


Wash wheat and soak overnight. Drain, cover with cold water to 2cm above wheat. Boil water until wheat is tender. Add spices and sugar. Wash raisins. Dice apricots. Add to wheat. Boil for 10 minutes. Serve with crushed walnuts and almonds. Decorate with pomegranate seeds and coconut shaving.


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