The Israeli city of Haifa, together with the help of the Arab Jewish Cultural Center is putting on a two week festival named the 'Holiday of Holidays' to proudly demonstrate a harmonious relationship between monolithic religions of the area.
The municipality has lined up musical concerts, a food festival, art galleries, children's plays, tours on the city and Christmas stalls all around the city.
In Israel's third-largest city, the streets have been decorated with decorations and bright lights.
A Christmas tree was erected in the main street of Haifa along with a Menorah designed to represent the Jewish holiday of Hanukka.
The city's Arab Jewish Cultural Center, formally known as Beit Hagefen is a not-for-profit organization which aims to create opportunities and platforms for all religions and cultures in Haifa and in Israel in general.
The Executive Director of Beit Hagefen, Asaf Ron said that the idea arose in the 90's when the Islamic holiday of Ramadan, the Jewish holiday of Hanukka and the Christian holiday of Christmas coincided.
"The festival of 'Holiday of Holidays' started 22 years ago when Ramadan, Christmas and Hanukka were (came) all together in December of 1994. So, the idea is to just celebrate together what is so simple if you think about it, to do it. It is the same source, so the holidays, the religions are merges from the same source, same belief, same God, so why to do it separate? Why don't we do it together? And Haifa is a very special city. that any way, year around we live in a very good (relationship) together here and respect each other and we want to emphasize it and to show it around also as possible," Ron said.
People of Haifa were out on the streets buying Christmas gifts and decorations from stalls set up around the city.
One resident, Hanna Khoury, said the people of Haifa have always been united by a common culture.
"There is equality (between people) here (in Haifa). All the holidays of the religions are the same, Islam, Christianity, Jewish and Druze. This unites us and Haifa has been always united (with its people) and will always stay united. That's all," Khoury said.
Another resident, Nicola Abu al-Zouz, sporting a Santa Clause outfit whilst handing out gifts to children, said that Santa Clause's house is opened to everyone, regardless of denomination.
"Santa House has been here for 30 years. People from all around the country and from all sects, foreigners, Arabs and Jews, they all come to visit Santa Clause house. Santa Clause gives them sweets and small gifts," Abu al-Zouz said.
Yafa, who brought her children to visit Santa said that events like the one in Haifa give her hope for a future where she may see more peace in the world.
"It is very nice to have the same holidays together and we live in peace and we hope it will be peace in all the world. No more war," Yafa said.
Nabila al-Douha who lives in the village of al-Rama, said that the municipality of Haifa had invited them to make pastries and sweets for participants of the festival.
"We were invited by the municipality of the city of Haifa to make sweets because this is what we do for living in our village al-Rama. Before Christmas we make (sweets) and before the big holiday, the Easter, we also make (sweets). We sell the sweets and the pastries (that we make) and we give the money we get to charity," al-Douha said.
Many people visited al-Sham food festival during the festivities to sample delights and listen to musicians performing for their guests.
According to Nouf Ismael, an organizer of the food festival, catering staff wanted to blend Arab and Jewish flavors to reflect the variety of dishes available in the city.
"Taking these ancient dishes and creating them, bringing them back to life and introducing people to these dishes, to the stories behind the dishes and to the music behind the dishes. So, you achieve two goals in one project; one is recreating these dishes again and the other one is combining both Jewish and Arabic culture in one mission of bringing back to life some dishes from the Arabic culture," Ismael explained.
The majority of festival events are located in the German Colony and al-Nisnas neighborhood and will be open to visitors every Friday and Saturday until the end of December 2015.
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