January 16, 2019

Christmas Envy... in Israel?

“One of the biggest highlights of my family’s yearly calendar is our end-of-December trip to Nazareth. Every year, we travel from our home in Tel Aviv with the kids—and sometimes friends, too—to view the splendor of the huge Christmas tree at Mary’s Well Square in Israel’s largest Arab city, which just happens to be the historical hometown of Jesus.

We’re Jewish. We don’t really have a clue about Christian theology or care about the beautiful family values of Christianity’s top holiday. We just love Christmas—for all of the most superficial reasons. We love to gaze at the huge decorated shimmering tree and to listen to the holiday’s greatest hits mixtape blasting out of the local PA system. We love to spread Christmas cheer through social media by uploading adorable photos of our kids in cheap Santa caps purchased from Nazareth’s Christmas market. We love to go visit the Basilica of the Annunciation, just because it’s so damn beautiful. And we love to finish this yearly daytrip off with a hearty Arab dinner of lamb shoulder at one of the city’s traditional restaurants—which over the years has become our very own version of Christmas dinner.

When we’re done with Nazareth, we visit another large fake Christmas tree: the one standing in Clock Square in Jaffa. It’s smaller and not quite as impressive, but it has it’s own advantages. It’s just a short bus ride away from our house, so we can go after school, eat hummus in Jaffa, and be back before bath time.

This is what you could call Christmas envy. We love the holiday, even knowing it’s not ours. And our family isn’t the only one. Each year, more and more secular Jewish Israelis who celebrate Christmas—as a commercial event, if not a religious holiday—come out of the closet. The kids aren’t taught anything about it at school—it’s not our holiday—and we, the parents, don’t know much about it either, but we all know one thing: It’s superfun!

Being the place where Jesus was born, the Holy Land is obviously big on Christmas tourism. I read on an online Israeli tourism website that Christmas in Israel is on many Christians’ bucket list. People travel from all over the world to celebrate Christmas in one of Israel’s major Christian sites—to experience the holiness of Midnight Mass (in Latin) at the Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem or walk down the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s Old City. But for secular Jewish Israelis who enjoy Christmas, the holiday isn’t about Israel’s Christian holy sites. We love the Christmas lights of Nazareth and Jaffa, but only because they remind us of London or New York—and frankly, we would much rather have a white Christmas at Rockefeller Center (which is on our own bucket list).”

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