Israel's non-event: Christmas
December 21, 2007
A recent article in one of Israel's prominent newspapers discouraged Israelis from taking part in any Christmas celebration. The article went on to say that the Jewish identity is more important than the observance of a Christian holiday and that the Jewish people should not be associated with it in any way. The holiday is not legally or religiously forbidden, it is just highly discouraged in the Jewish nation.
Israeli shops and department stores do not depend on Christmas shoppers to bolster their bottom line. No Christmas carols are played over the radio airwaves, and neighbors are not competing to see who has the best yard decorations for the Christmas season. Manger scenes, Christmas trees, garland, and twinkle lights are nonexistent in the very land where the Son of David was born of a young Jewish virgin in a small village called Bethlehem located just outside the capital city of Jerusalem.
Not only is Christmas not celebrated in the Land of Jesus' birth, even the very mention of Christmas brings negative reactions from the majority of Israelis. As I was doing my weekly shopping in the open air market in downtown Jerusalem today, I made it a point to wish each of the shop owners where I normally do business a "Merry Christmas". The majority of reactions were negative ranging from verbal disgust to hard looks accompanied by frowns. I had a couple of surprised looks and only one genuine smile. Not one person would return my greeting or say the word “Christmas”. Many Israelis will not even say the name of Jesus much less refer to Him as "Christ" (or "Messiah" in Hebrew).
There is one Jewish agency which assists in the Christmas festivities. The Jewish National Fund (JNF), which is responsible for Israel's growing forests, provides free Christmas trees to anyone who will come and pick them up. They use Christmas as a time to thin out the smaller trees in their carefully cultivated forests so they will not steal precious water and nutrients from the larger more stately specimens in the forest. Israel uses its forests not only for beauty but also for defense. Have you ever tried to drive a tank or troop carrier through a forest? Most people have not, including servicemen who drive tanks for a living. I hear it is virtually impossible. So the JNF does a wonderful job of providing beautiful free trees to those who wish to put one up in there homes.
Although Israelis generally refuse to celebrate Christmas, thousands of tourists come each year during the holiday season. An estimated 60,000 is expected to visit Bethlehem and Nazareth in the month of December. Bethlehem celebrations are a unique experience and I look forward to being in manger square on Christmas Eve. There is always live music and thousands of tourists enjoy the festivities. Choirs from around the world can be heard singing Christmas carols and many Christian groups hold services in the nearby hotels and parks but one thing is obviously missing: Jewish people.
Although glimpses of Christmas can be seen at an occasional shop in the old city, or an angel standing in the market, Christmas is a non event for the Jewish people. Israel's most recognized son is intentionally forgotten while the rest of the western world celebrates his birth.