Freshly greased plantain leaves, a kitchen splattered with corn meal, and festive music accompanied by generous amounts of alcohol all make up one of Venezuela's most-enduring Christmas traditions: the gathering of family to prepare a corn dough tamale known as the hallaca.
Ahmed Luay's second-eldest son, a soldier in the Syrian army, fell in battle with rebels just over a month ago. Three more of his sons are still on the front lines in the Damascus suburbs. Luay insists he's prepared to sacrifice them all in what he says is a war against a terrorist invasion.
The lights have been turned on a 25-meter-tall (82-foot-tall) Christmas tree in the center of St. Peter's Square.