Thursday, December 17, 2015

Where are you, Christmas?

Well, I'm living just about 2 hours north of Bethlehem, where that whole first Christmas thing all went down, but of course, given the demographics in modern-day Israel... Christmas is not really a thing here. They celebrate lots of other holidays, but not this one!

Like most people that celebrate Christmas, I love the whole season. I am lucky enough to get to go home for the week of Christmas, but that is obviously not enough time to be in the Christmas spirit. I got a pretty good dose of Christmas during my week in France, and this week I've made some efforts to track down Christmas in Israel.

On Monday, I went with a friend to Nazareth. It only takes about 40 minutes to get there on the bus. 

We started out by stopping by the Basilica of the Annunciation.

I like this church because it's very unique, with a lot of art. And it's huge- it's supposedly the biggest church in the Middle East.

There are representations of Mary (usually with Jesus) donated from almost every country in the world. Unfortunately, the American one is one of the worst.

Thankfully, Canada's is the very worst... which makes ours look better. Thanks, Canada!

Right next to the church is Nazareth's covered market/shuk. We walked through it and picked up some souvenirs.

We opted not to purchase these pigs, but that was super fun to come across. #definitelynotkosher

Our next stop was trying to find Christmas. After about a 10 minute walk, we were successful. I was very impressed with the big tree! 

That's Bryonna, who is a fellow ex-BYU student that recently came to University of Haifa. We actually lived at the FLSR (foreign language student residence) at the same time, although we didn't know each other then. Small world.

This little Greek Orthodox church was next to the tree. Inside is what is supposed to be "Mary's well."

There was also a small Christmas market. It obviously wasn't quite up to European Christmas market standards, but I probably should have expected that. We went there on the day after it opened, so it might get a little more impressive as the week goes on. There were some things to eat, as well as a lot of hand-made Arab embroidery and other crafts. We wished we had enough money to buy some of the beautiful things for sale! However, usually the word 'hand-made'= super expensive.

Nazareth is an Arab city, and from what I've heard about half of the population are Arab Christians. So that explains why you can find some Christmas there, besides the fact that they cater to Christian tourists, because, you know, Jesus lived there. They also have a big parade on Christmas Eve, which I would totally go to if I wouldn't be in Wisconsin!

After some lunch we headed back to Haifa, which ended up taking a lot longer than actually getting to Nazareth. I'm not complaining about taking the long way home though, because as long as we ended up in Haifa eventually, I count it as a success. Taking the round-about way also meant that we got to say hi to the beach just before sunset.

What made it even better was that I ate a Hannukah doughnut on the beach. Monday was the last day of Hannukah, so I absolutely had to participate in that tradition before the holiday was over. It's traditional to eat foods fried in oil to remember the miracle of the oil burning for 8 days that the holiday is based on. Religion is fun!

Yesterday, two days after the Nazareth trip, I ventured to downtown Haifa for one last dose of Christmas before heading home. I remembered from last year that there is one street in the German Colony that is beautifully decorated. I love the combination of the menorah, the tree, and the Baha'i gardens in the background.

Obviously, most of Israel is not decorated for Christmas... which made seeing this stuff more exciting. Tomorrow I head home! It's probably a little crazy to fly 14 hours to only be home for a week, but it's happening.

 Merry Christmas, everyone! 

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