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Catholic Activity: Pre-Christmas Syrian Party in Honor of St. Barbara


  • See Text for specific instructions. Includes information on:
  • 1. The Legend
  • 2. Hunting Barbara's Crown (Pre-teen)
  • 3. Motion Tag (Pre-teen)
  • 4. Crowning Barbara (Pre-teen)
  • 5. Barbara's Day Chant (Pre-teen-Teen)
  • Recipes

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Syrians start Christmas festivities on December 4, Day of Saint Barbara, who for seventeen centuries has been specially loved and honored by girls in both the Near East and Europe. Lighted colored candles, gala cakes, all kinds of sweets, even Barbara herself-represented in long white robe and gleaming crown-show a certain similarity between the Syrian holiday ceremony and the American Christmas tree party at which Santa Claus appears.

Regardless of her reputed martyrdom, Barbara's anniversary is a joyous occasion for Syrian children. Christmas Day itself is strictly religious in character. But the saint's day (celebrated by both boys and girls) is a happy blend of such worldly pleasures as feasting, singing, and mumming, with sharing holiday bounty with others. The feast is a time for teaching lessons of thoughtfulness for the unfortunate. Children are sent to bereaved homes with sweetmeats, and to poverty-stricken ones they carry goodies with the traditional greeting, "May God bless you and bring you happiness every year.. Father and Mother beg you to accept these gifts from us.

A Barbara's Day party suggests a good idea for Brownies, Girl Reserves, Camp Fire, or other younger girls' groups which may like to combine a pre-Christmas party of games, festive foods and fun, with a serious gift project for shut-ins, children in hospitals, and wounded war veterans. It is always good to start preteens early in a realization of the Christmas tradition, so its warmth and glow may color the entire season and deepen the holiday's essential significance. A party like this does just that.



Cut tower-shaped folders from gray construction paper and tie with silver cord. Cut three rounded windows on the outside of the tower (legend says Barbara cut three in her tower to symbolize the Trinity) and line with silver paper.

On the outside of the folder write, "Syrian Christmas Party" and the date, and inside the rhyme:

Barbara, lovely maid, Was banished to a tower And slain by pagan sword. She now returns With candles bright And crown of gold To bring us cheer And glad delight Throughout the year.
DECORATIONS Among the Syrians, "Barbara's table" is just as much a secret as our Christmas tree; so try to keep the refreshment table a surprise by screening it off or having it behind closed doors until eating time.

A round table, placed in the center of the room, is ideal, although any shape may be used. A white lace or linen cloth is best, since attention is focused on the gold-crown centerpiece which is surrounded with pink, yellow, blue, and white lighted candles.

Make the crown of cardboard. Cover it with gold paper and sew dime-store "jewels" on the points. Raise the crown on a base. Fill the open center with prettily wrapped favors which are tied with streamers. One end extends to the plates and ends with small gold-crown name cards. After refreshments, guests pull out their favors.

Set the table buffet style, with chocolate pot and cups, plates, and silver. Arrange sandwiches, cakes, and sweets on flower-decorated plates. Pastel-colored paper napkins are gay with corner motifs of crown and star stickers.


1. The Legend Everybody will like to hear the hostess tell the story of Saint Barbara, originator of the festival. Little is known of her, actually, but legends abound.

Barbara is thought to have lived in the third century. Tradition says that Dioscorus, her rich heathen father, imprisoned the girl in a high tower where her beauty could not attract suitors. There, unknown to him, Barbara became a Christian. According to Syrian legend, when she steadfastly refused to marry a pagan youth her father had selected, the wrathful Dioscorus determined to kill her with his own hand. At first lie was unsuccessful, but finally lie beheaded her and was immediately struck by lightning and consumed by fire. Later on, Barbara became patroness of thunderstorms and fire, as well as guardian of artillery men and miners.

One legend says Dioscorus once threatened to kill Barbara unless she showed what she was hiding in her robe. The girl, who had wheat bread for the poor, prayed for a miracle to save her. Upon opening the folds of her robe, roses, not bread, fell to the ground. There are many who claim that the wheaten cakes and foods eaten today on the saint's anniversary commemorate the bread she fed the hungry. Although the Syrians say that wheat, symbol of soul resurrection, is eaten to honor the dead, they never emphasize Barbara's physical death, but rather God's protection in her hour of need.

2. Hunting Barbara's Crown

AGE: Pre-teen NUMBER: Unlimited EQUIPMENT: Crown cookies individually wrapped in waxed paper or cellophane; some cookies wrapped in gold, silver, or colored foil; basket or box containers; piano

Hide cookies in all parts of the room before guests arrive. Divide the group into teams and provide each with a container. The game is to see which team can make the highest score during a twenty-minute hunt to music. Plain-wrapped cookies count 1; silver foil, 5; gold foil, 10; colored, 15. Players may hunt only so long as the piano plays. Throughout the hunt the music starts and stops abruptly.

At the end of the contest, scores are tallied and teams divide the booty.

3. Motion Tag

AGE: Pre-teen NUMBER: Unlimited TYPE: Quiet EQUIPMENT: None

For this popular Syrian game players sit cross-legged in a circle. "It" starts with some motion, such as holding the nose of the player beside her, pulling her left car, patting the back of her neck. All the other players must do the same thing, without laughing or speaking. Of course, someone will giggle or start to say something. As soon as she does, she goes out of the game. The one who holds out longest becomes It in the next round.

4. Crowning Barbara

AGE: Pre-teen NUMBER: 10-18 TYPE: Moderately active EQUIPMENT: Head of pretty girl (St. Barbara) painted on large sheet of paper, attached to wall; as many gold cardboard crowns, with pins inserted, as players; paper-bag blindfolds

Each player in turn is blindfolded, revolved three times, and directed to place the crown on Barbara's head. The one coming closest wins. Appropriate prizes for the winner would be a box of assorted gumdrop "jewels," or a crown lapel pin.

5. Barbara's Day Chant

AGE: Pre-teen-Teen NUMBER: Unlimited TYPE: Quiet EQUIPMENT: Typed copy of chant for each player

Just before refreshments, hand out copies of the following song:

Blessed Barbara, Chosen of God, Thy stern heathen father, adorer of stone, Determined to kill thee; But God was thy Shield. Thy father's keen sword, When lie sought to behead thee, Was changed to a necklace of coins most rare; The rope used to hang thee Became a silk girdle; And the fire to burn thee As sweet incense ascended. Blessed Barbara, Chosen of God.*
Divide guests into several teams and allow twenty minutes to see which can present the best interpretation. judge on the basis of dramatic effectiveness, musical form, and originality.

The team voted as having the best interpretation teaches its version of the song to all the others.

*The words of the chant were pieced together by the author from oral traditions of the old Syrian festival song.

At a signal, everyone gathers outside the closed door of the refreshment room and starts singing.

THE FEAST In the refreshment room have no illumination other than the lighted candles surrounding Barbara's crown. The doors are opened and guests welcomed by the hostess as Barbara, in long white robe and gold crown. According to Syrian custom, she leads the guests three times around the table as they chant the Barbara song.

Suggested refreshments:

Crown Shaped Sandwiches Ghorabie (Short Cake) Stuffed Shredded Wheat Mrubbah-el-Mishmush (Apricot Candy) Turkish Delight Jordan Almonds Hot Chocolate with Whipped Cream

GIFT-PACKING PROJECT The packing of cooky gift boxes for shut-ins and invalids may follow quite logically other meetings at which goodies are made and boxes prepared and decorated. Delightful containers are made from coffee tins, painted and ornamented with peasant-figure or flower designs; or from oatmeal or other pasteboard cartons, covered with colorful solid-toned paper to which humorous seasonal motifs-cut from paper of contrasting color or from used holiday cards-are applied, and brushed with white shellac; or clean used candy boxes, neatly covered with wallpaper or any of the many charming gift wrapping papers.

Paper lace doilies, fluted paper baking cups in pastel colors, and plenty of waxed paper and silver foil are all useful accessories for dainty packaging.

To stimulate originality in preparing attractive boxes, simple prizes might be offered to the girls creating gift packages voted: (1) the most beautiful; (2) the most amusing; (3) the most expressive of the Christmas spirit.

Activity Source: Folk Party Fun by Dorothy Gladys Spicer, Association Press, New York, 1954