Saturday, December 29, 2018

Christmas in Israel


The Arab Christians in Haifa take their Christmas decorations very seriously!

It feels a bit strange to write about Christmas in Israel because the majority of the population here do not celebrate it. For most of us, it is just another working day. 




It is actually quite easy to forget that so many people in the world celebrate Christmas. Especially if you do not switch on the television or go on social media. As a matter of fact, I was a bit surprised this year when I tried to make an appointment with a company in the USA. Their calendar was unexpected blocked off for two days! It was only later that I realized why.

But this does not mean that nobody celebrates Christmas here in the Holy Land. We do not have small trees decorating our take-away coffee or non-stop jingles playing in the malls. But don’t forget that the Christians in Israel have probably been celebrating Christmas long before the rest of the world.

If you want to really experience Christmas in Israel, you will have to go to the place where it all started. There are large communities of Christians in Bethlehem and Nazareth as well as other large cities such as Haifa, Jerusalem and Jaffa (Tel-Aviv).

You can read a bit more about the festivities that place in these cities at this link: Celebrating Christmas in Israel.

Hanukka, Christmas (and sometimes Ramadan too) are usually celebrated together in Haifa
Most of the Christians living today in Israel are either Christian Arabs, mixed family immigrants from the old Soviet block and Maronite Christians who fled from South Lebanon. They all practice a version of some type of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Even though there are some English-speaking Protestant churches here, they are definitely in the minority.

Ages ago, when I worked as an Au Pair in Israel, some acquaintances at a hostel in Jerusalem suggested that we attend the Midnight Mass in Bethlehem. The Ministry of Transport provides free bus rides between these two cities on Christmas Eve.

I will never forget that feeling of thundering in an ancient grey bus, circa 1950, late in the evening towards Bethlehem. Our bus driver was extremely grumpy but he lightened up a bit when some of the Swedish passengers started to sing Christmas carols.

Two Irish girls on the bus told us that their parish priest back home managed to get them seats inside the church where the Midnight Mass was to be held. The rest of us, they said, will just have to do with looking at the mass on the large screen that will be placed at the Manger Square. Since the most of us were just there for the ride, that was quite fine with us.

The Manger Square was packed with people from all over the world who came to take part in the mass. And the area surrounding the square was packed with locals who came to look at the festivities. My friend and I had a jolly time drinking coffee with them, talking politics and just taking in the atmosphere. 

On the bus back to the hostel, some of the tourists said that they did not really understood much because the entire service was in Arabic. So keep that in mind if you ever think of attending this mass in Bethlehem.

I now live with my family in the northern part of Israel. Haifa, a large harbour city, is about 20 minutes’ drive from our town. One of my friends in my pilates class mentioned that the Christmas lights were really amazing this year and that I should go and have a look. 


The top of the huge Christmas tree in the middle of the German colony in Haifa

And that is exactly what we did. Together with thousands of other Israelis! We were really lucky that we even managed to find a parking spot. Everyone (Jews, Christians and Muslims) come every year to see the lights, have something to eat and enjoy the stalls and street performances.

One may not feel that it is Christmas here in our regular day-to-day life, but the Christians here are definitely given the space and respect to celebrate their religion. 

And if you life in Jerusalem, the municipality will give you a free Christmas tree!


I hope you had a merry Christmas and a happy Hanukka!

Season’s greetings to everyone! May 2019 be a wonderful year for you!!



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