As with last year, Adam and I almost forgot that Christmas was this week. How could we forget? Easy. There were no Christmas lights, no Christmas music, and no Christmas sales to remind us that the holiday was fast approaching. Yesterday, Christmas Eve day was a work day. Today, Christmas day is a work day as well. When life is going on as usual, it is easy to forget.
Last year, Adam and I were asked by a number of people, “What do people do in Israel for Christmas?” The truth was that we had no idea. Everything was pretty much normal. People were going about their daily routine as if it was just any old Tuesday because here it was just a regular Tuesday. We felt a bit embarassed that we couldn’t provide insight into this major holiday, so this year we decided to find Christmas in Jerusalem.
The only place to really go was to the Christian Quarter of the Old City. Last year we decided that we wanted to go there this year to see how people celebrate. As the holiday approached, we once again got lost in the craziness of life and almost forgot that Christmas was here. Thankfully, family members on vacation reminded us that the reason they were off from work was because of Christmas. We remembered our plan and chose last night to make our way to the Old City. Adam had a colleague who felt alone for the holiday since her family is back in North and South America, so she joined us in our explorations. It was nice to have her with us. It is much nicer doing Christmas stuff with someone who actually celebrates the holiday.
We arrived at the Old City through the Jaffa Gate since this brings you to the Christian and Armenian quarters. As soon as we entered, we saw a Christmas tree in lights on a building and a few shops and restaurants decorated with Santa Claus and Christmas trees. It looked just like back home. As we walked through the Christian quarter, there were lights and decorations everywhere. The narrow streets were lined with souvenir shops. The owners really wanted us to come and buy something. One guy told us that we forgot something. Of course we stopped to see what we dropped and when we asked what we forgot he said, “You forgot to look in my shop.” We smiled and kept walking.
While enjoying the lights, we had the goal of finding the Church of the Holy Sepulchre since our friend wanted to find it. We expected it to be the church will the tall tower that was all lit up, but it turns out that we were wrong. After wandering for a while and asking for directions three times we found it down a small alleyway. It was a beautifully constructed building that was much more understated than we expected. The Church was closed. Most people expected there to be a midnight mass there but our friend told us that the Church is run by the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, so they celebrate Christmas about a week later. She said other places in the Christian quarter would have singing and mass at midnight but we didn’t plan to stick around that late.
After we found the Church, we made our way back to Jaffa Gate. We walked around the outside of the Old City to New Gate. Here there were lots more Christmas decorations including a gigantic Christmas tree. It was nice to see the decorations, although I was starting to get tired at this point, and Adina had fallen asleep in the Bjorn. At this point we decided to head home while our friend staid to enjoying the festivities of Christmas a bit more.
I think this may be the most pictures of Christmas lights I have ever taken in my whole life, but I wanted to give you a sense of what it was like. Since what we saw was in an area that gets a lot of tourists, it is hard to know if this is really how Christians celebrate in Israel or if this is something that is done for tourists. We did hear that Nazareth had fireworks and Bethlehem has midnight mass and a big Christmas tree that they light. However, unless you are in these particular places, you can’t really tell it is Christmas. As soon as we left the Christian Quarter, everything was as it always is.
Until next time…