Several thousand people attended the annual Christmas parade in Nazareth on Saturday, with the festivities going ahead as usual despite political tensions over the decision by the US to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Thousands of Israelis, including local Arab Christians, Muslims and Jews from surrounding communities, descended on Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel, for the parade. It was the 35th annual parade, according to a statement by the Christmas March Association which organizes the event.
On a railing near the main stage where a female singer belted out songs, posters had been placed in Arabic and English reading “Jerusalem, capital of Palestine.” The same poster was put on a roundabout entering the city.
They were a reminder that in the days after US President Donald Trump’s decision the Mayor of Nazareth Ali Salam had considered canceling some of the events in the city in protest of the US decision. In the end, the parade went ahead as planned and only a musical performance was canceled on December 17.
The parade was organized in cooperation with the municipality and the police. Streets were blocked throughout the afternoon causing massive traffic jams in and around the city.
The march began at the tomb of the Virgin Mary and continued down Paul VI Street. The mayor, local Christian scout troops, and schools sent delegations.
A statement from the organizers pasted on a local Facebook page and Arabic media noted that the “procession symbolizes the march of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph two thousand years ago from the city of the Annunciation [Nazareth] to the city of the Nativity, Bethlehem.”
Hymns and fireworks were scheduled for after the parade. Catholic, Anglicans, Maronites and Orthodox Christian groups were represented in the parade. Hundreds of children came dressed as Santa, many of the boys wearing red ties. Some locals adorned their cars with red flags for the holiday.
In and around the city many shops were decorated for Christmas. One sold baskets, complete with Red or Black Label Johnnie Walker, for NIS 350.
A stage was set up at the end of Paul VI Street near the Annunciation Church. The large church was built in 1969 and the street leading to it is named in memory of Pope Paul VI’s trip to the Holy Land in 1964.
For many of those attending the events, the festivities seemed more about a seasonal and cultural event on a Saturday than anything particularly religious. Many of the Israeli Jews who came donned red and white Santa hats and enjoyed shwarma at the local restaurants.
Local youths appeared more interested in the Clasico match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona than they did about the holiday. As the crowds waited for parade to start, the cheers of the soccer fans could be heard above the din.
Red balloons, which were distributed with greetings in Arabic, drifted in the air and a small drone flew overhead.
A smattering of Russian, Arabic and Hebrew could be heard in the crowds.
Christmas in Nazareth seemed to unite a cross-section of the country – at least momentarily.