Christmas in Israel
Electricity bills go up in December. Christmas lights and giant snowmen pop up next to every house, if they haven’t already appeared before Thanksgiving. Christmas in America is a huge holiday, and not only for Christians, but secular individuals as well. Even a small number of Jewish families attend the occasional Christmas party in the office and at the neighbors’ home. However, a vast majority of religious Jews keep their distance from Christmas.
Many people would think that these religious views would cause the Jewish State of Israel to be restrictive of Christmas. But in reality, anyone can enjoy Christmas in the Holy Land. Israel is probably the only state in the Middle East that provides full religious freedom to their citizens. A special place is reserved for Christian locals and visitors. Christians do not need to hide their beliefs or customs for fear of being rejected. Many Israelis, traditional and secular, enjoy the lights, singing, and festive treats that come to the streets of Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel-Aviv with the holiday. To commemorate the celebrated events, many pilgrims come and add to the festive mood as the winter tourist season brings visitors from every corner of the world.
Christians only make up about two percent of Israel’s population. Eighty percent of those are Arab Christians, mainly residing in the north of the country or in Jerusalem. Christians are given the same freedoms and rights as other ethnicities, and most Christians living in Israel are thankful for the protection and religious freedoms that the State of Israel allows them. Some Christian Arabs even serve in the IDF and many volunteer in other ways to give back to the state. For Arab Christians, the Christmas tradition is slightly different than what we are familiar with here in the US. First, it is customary that one family visits friends and neighbors, while the other family hosts a gathering at their house. Traditional food includes cookies called “mamoul,” a butter cookie with a date paste in the middle and ghraybeh, made from semolina (also known as cream of wheat), butter, sugar, pistachio nuts, and orange blossom. Chocolate shaped in the form of Santa Claus is often served with a high quality sweet liquor. If you decide to visit Israel during this time, make sure you get a taste of the local Christmas spirit!
The stories we read in the New Testament talk about familiar places like Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem. We read about the magi visiting from the east, shepherds in the fields and a traveling family who finds themselves in the barn instead of a cozy hotel room. Here in America, we’re used to looking at this story from a distance of time and culture. Today, we can overcome the distance and re-connect to the reality of that time and place. Millions of people will be traveling this year to celebrate the holidays in Israel. They will visit the churches that have been built over the centuries to remember the exact places where these biblical events took place. These pilgrims will be able to see the land for themselves and meet the people who carry in their DNA the connection to the story. The lights on our trees at home and outside remind us of the light that came into this world, but Christmas in Israel will remind you that this story was real and it continues today in Israel.
You can watch the 2012 video by Benjamin Netanyahu congratulating Christians around the world:
LoveIsrael.com invites you to experience this season to the fullest by planning a visit to Israel. We also offer you the chance to reconnect with your faith and grow in your relationship with God through a number of enriching projects. Our website provides opportunities to get and stay connected to this special land and its people.