The winter holiday season is upon us. And that means there are umpteen choices of cultural events to enjoy.
Schoolchildren are on vacation, and families crisscross the country to partake in festivals, exhibits, concerts, food fairs, and holiday-themed markets.
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As is customary with every holiday in Israel, the bakeries serve up traditional baked goods according to the celebration. In the run-up to Hanukkah, that means sufganiyot (donuts with fillings).
This year, Hanukkah (which begins on December 22 and ends on December 30) and Christmas overlap.
With twinkling lights, gleaming Hanukkiyahs, colorful Christmas trees and lit up stars and crescents – many of the festivities also shine a light on this month being a holiday celebration for all.
NoCamels offers eight ways to celebrate the holidays this month in Israel.
Hanu-Christmas Market, Haifa
Europe’s Christmas markets are famed for their extravagant decorations, local fare, mulled wine, gingerbread cookies, handmade gifts and concerts.
The Hanu-Christmas Market in Shuk Talpiot brings a taste of Europe to Haifa – with an Israeli twist, of course.
On December 24, the one-time event will kick off with a group lighting of the Hanukkiyah, a preloved gift exchange (bring something you don’t want from home wrapped to give away), and then Christmas karaoke.
The event’s gastro offerings reflect the country’s different communities and includes Tunisian sandwiches, Mexican treats, traditional Arab desserts, Italian food, and Indian specialties.
From 7 p.m., 18+, free entry.
Similarly, the Abraham Hostel in Tel Aviv will hold a Chrismukkah party on December 26, at 21 Levontin Street.
Hanukkah lamp collection, Tel Aviv
Pop over to the Nahum Gutman Museum in the Neve Tzedek neighborhood of Tel Aviv to see a unique Hanukkah lamp collection. The collection belongs to Drora and Pinchas Zackai and comprises some 60 Hanukkah lamps, each reflecting a different Jewish community from around the world.
Hanukkah lamps are known as a Hanukkiyah, a type of candelabra with nine candle holders. There is no one shape or size of a Hanukkiyah and thus the exhibit is all the more interesting. For a Hanukkiyah to be considered “kosher” for the holiday, eight candle holders must be in line with one another with the ninth candle (the “shamash”) in a different position.
During Hanukkah, it is customary to light the Hanukkiyah, using the shamash to light a new candle every night until on the eighth day, all the candles are lit together.
Of course, it’s not just the Nahum Gutman Museum with a special exhibit for the holiday season. All museums in Israel offer Hanukkah-themed events during the month of December.
Israeli Novy God, Ramat Gan
An Israeli Novy God celebration is set for December 28 in Ramat Gan. Novy God, the Russian phrase for New Year, is a secular, nonreligious celebration with its own traditions and decorations.
The event in Ramat Gan includes traditional music, dancing and foods as well as arts workshops for the little ones.
While entrance is free, preregistration is a must.
Lanterns in the Grottoes, Rosh Hanikra
Seeing the grottoes at Rosh Hanikra during the daytime is breathtaking but seeing these geological formations during a nighttime lantern tour, is even cooler.
The 75-minute tour, which must be reserved in advance, includes a guided explanation of how the grottoes were formed as well as history of the site.
The tour also includes a group singalong of Hanukkah songs as well as lighting the hanukkiyah. The Hanukkah tours take place December 23-26 and December 29, at 5:15 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
The cost of entry is NIS 54 ($15) for adults and NIS 48 ($13) for children.
Elmina Theater Festival, Jaffa
There are dozens of theater and music festivals geared to families for the holiday season taking place across the country. And while the Festigal is the most famous with its glitzy costumes, A-list children’s stars and catchy musical numbers, those looking for something with a more educational message may prefer to look in Jaffa.
The Elmina Theater Festival uses the stage to celebrate different cultures. From December 19-21, the Elmina ensemble raises the curtain on new productions relating to prejudice and acceptance, family traditions and elements from Jewish, Christian and Muslim cultures.
Some shows are in Hebrew, some in Arabic, some bilingual and others non-verbal.
Flickering candles in windows, Bnei Brak or Jerusalem
A favorite activity for Israelis during Hanukkah is a walking tour (DIY or guided) through the streets of Bnei Brak or the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem to see the flickering flames of the hanukkiyot (Hanukkah candelabras).
People also walk around the Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem to take in the beauty of Hanukkah at night. It is customary to display the hanukkiyah in the window, to show that this home is celebrating the holiday. Some people light wax candles and others use oil lamps to celebrate the Hanukkah miracle that a small amount of oil to light the Temple’s menorah miraculously lasted eight days.
Hanukkah Public Candle Lighting, across the country
Chabad, the Jewish Hassidic movement, hosts public candle lighting events across the country during Hanukkah.
In Tel Aviv, the lightings will take place every evening throughout the holiday at Rabin and HaBima Squares.
In Jerusalem, the Grand Menorah Lighting Festival, the lighting of a 12-foot high brass hanukkiyah, at the Mamilla Mall takes place every year. Chabad also hosts lighting oversized hanukkiyahs in neighborhoods throughout the country, often handing out sufganiyot after the blessings.
Christmas tree selfies, around the country
It may not be a white Christmas in Israel, but there are decked-out cities, towns, and neighborhoods across the country. In honor of the Christmas celebrations, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, in collaboration with the Jaffa Orthodox Scouts, placed a 15-meter tree beside the Jaffa Clock Tower.
The tree is lit up every night and draws Israelis and tourists alike to take selfies and enjoy the festive atmosphere.
The Christmas tree will be lit every evening until January 19, 2020.
Meanwhile, in the German Colony area of Haifa, Ben-Gurion Boulevard is bursting with Christmas spirit. There is an oversized Hanukkiyah, a Christmas tree and a crescent with star all lit up at the foot of the Baha’i Gardens. And, of course, Haifa is home to the Holiday of Holidays multicultural festival, which takes place every weekend in December.
In Nazareth, the city’s enormous Christmas tree is still a favorite selfie spot, at Hama’ayan Square. Try to time your visit with the annual Christmas Parade along Al-Umal Al-Arab St., which is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on December 24.
Viva Sarah Press is a journalist and speaker. She writes and talks about the creativity and innovation taking place in Israel and beyond. www.vivaspress.com