Xmas cheer over here

No matter if it's snowing or not, Israel has just about everything you're looking for this Christmas.

jerusalem xmas 88 (photo credit: )
jerusalem xmas 88
(photo credit: )
Although there seems to be zero chance of a white Christmas this year, holiday seekers can still find tinsel, yuletide spirit and festivities galore around the country. Santa may not have much need for a sleigh when there's no snow, but a sleigh ride around the capital will have you believing you're in a winter wonderland. Adorned with dangling icicles and larger-than-life snowballs, Jerusalem's Jaffa Road, Ben Yehuda Mall and Emek Refayim are transformed with hundreds of thousands of lights. A collaborative project with Paris, Jerusalem's municipal government believes that "this project will light up the minds and hearts of residents and visitors." While strolling around, keep a sharp lookout for the vendors selling roasted chestnuts! On Sunday, of course there's the traditional Bethlehem pilgrimage from the Tomb of Rachel at 1 p.m. to Shepherd's Field [Beit Sahour], the Basilica of the Nativity and St. Catherine Church, followed by Pontifical Vespers. Don't be dismayed; even if you didn't get an official ticket, just tag along with everyone else. No one is checking. Although Christmas Day is a little trickier, it's possible to attend midnight mass in Bethlehem. Simply drive through the Gush Etzion tunnels, past the Green Line, and park beside the yellow taxis along the side of the highway. Upon arrival at the various churches, use your elbows and just push your way through, Israeli style. For the excursionist who is both adventurous and searching for quiet meditation, take bus #18 (located near the Jerusalem Hotel across from Damascus Gate) to Ramallah and celebrate Christmas Quaker-style. "It's different. No singing. No service. We meditate for one hour. Then you speak out of the silence. We would love to welcome Israelis. It's really sad they can't come in," says volunteer Karen Bergen. Sunday morning services begin at 10:30 a.m. If you've already made it to Ramallah, legally or not, stay and check out the Evangelical Lutheran Congregation's 6 p.m. service, complete with ginger cookies made by local Sunday school kids. On Monday at 10:30 a.m. all the pastors of Ramallah, including the Quakers, will meet at the Roman Catholic Church to greet the community. Although many churches this year will be packed, many of our co-religionists have gone abroad this year, according to Rachel Bashi of the Baptist Village Congregant in Petah Tikva. "We're doing almost nothing this year for Christmas; most of our congregants have left the country," she says. For any remaining Baptists, preacher Phillip Saad from Haifa's Baptist Center invites wayward foreign tourists, students, widows and those from abroad to his home for prayers, music and a barbecued Christmas Eve feast. As for the feast of the Nativity itself, if you're not in Jerusalem to savor the American Colony's traditional Christmas meal, or in Tiberias enjoying a subsided meal for Israel's Christian communities with the Church of Scotland, Ben Gurion Boulevard in Haifa is the place to eat and see Santa with his reindeer. At Douzan's, three nodding reindeer with Santa (along with his mother and sister) kindly greet you upon arrival, while owner Fadi Najar gives out free chocolates to all on Christmas Day. Multi-cultural, Douzan prides itself on offering both its Jewish and Christian neighbors good cheer and generosity of spirit. Another Christmas classic decorated to the hilt in red and green, with lots of lights, is Faces Restaurant, which offers a special Christmas menu featuring traditional beef tongue and knase for desert, along with Arab dishes of beef filet and lamb chops. Even if you don't come in to eat, you can visit the life-size Santa outside. The restaurant is easy to find, as it's the only one spinning Elvis Presley Christmas carols. The whole German Colony in Haifa is like walking around the North Pole. Granted it's not as elaborate as Macy's snow village or the typical downtown in the US, but it's the only street in the country that's full of Christmas atmosphere and cheer. It's well worth the drive North. So no matter if it's snowing or not, Israel has just about everything you're looking for this Christmas. As Tommy Fleming from Miami says: "The important thing to remember about this time of year is that people are out to have a good time. We are reminded of the importance of breaking bread with close friends and family." See www.cic.org for details of all services in the country.