A day in Palestine: Night

Gustaf Dalman ends his description of the day in Palestine with the night. About one and half hours after sunset it is fully night in the Holy Land. In the farmhouses lamps are lit by then. Among farmers and Bedouin this is the time for dinner, the main meal of the day. After dinner, it is time to get together—Americans would translate it “visiting”. Men see their relatives or sit in the village inn; women gather more discreetly. The telling of stories is the main entertainment. Due to the elaborate narrative style of the locals, even insignificant events can be woven into long, intricate stories. Before midnight everyone returns home to sleep.

When the night is warm and the moon is full, sleep and rest does not come easily. Often, talking on the open roofs will carry through town and village. A loud voice in the street may sing about the longing of love and the pain of separation, while others answer in appreciative echoes. When the night is cold and the sky is dark, the town and village appears forlorn and lonely.

Shortly after midnight, the cock crows for the first time. From then on the quiet of the night slowly becomes disturbed, as people wake and return to their work. Early in the morning, well before sunrise, women begin to grind grain.

It is considered dangerous to go out at night before the cock crows. Demons are wandering in the dark. That’s why, according to Jewish tradition, one should not greet another person at night: that person might in fact be a demon. The light of a torch, the moon’s light, and the company of other people affords protection against demons. Particularly springs are the favourite haunts of demons.

In early 20th century Palestine the night was divided into 11 or 12 hours or parts. In Ancient Israel, the night was divided into three watches. During Roman times that division may have been changed to four watches. It was said that donkeys brayed during the first watch, dogs howled during the second watch, and women nursed their babies during the third watch. Dalman agreed that these are the noises of the night in Palestine. He experienced it often enough. But for him the braying of the donkeys early in the morning was more memorable than their noises early in the night.

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