Israelis Get Festive For Holiday Season With Local Celebrations Nationwide
Holiday events throughout December are many and though the new Covid variant Omicron has shut out international visitors at this time, locals are being encouraged to crisscross the country to take part in the uniqueness of each of the happenings.
“December is a month brimming with activities and holidays, especially in cities with mixed populations. The streets are decorated with lights and colorful decorations and symbols from the different holidays, there are many events taking place, delicious foods everywhere you turn,” tour guide Ruth Ben-Ami tells NoCamels. “Hanukkah and Christmas, together, produce a festival full of light and delicious foods.”
Israelis are known as avid travelers with no destination too far away. Elisa Leopold Moed, the founder of Israel-based Travelujah travel company, says Israelis can only benefit from being tourists in their own country.
Moreover, she says that Israel’s decision to halt foreign travelers from coming into Israel has created a rare opportunity for locals to enjoy some of the country’s most important Christian sites without the crowds.
“It’s a great opportunity to go out to places you don’t necessarily visit day-to-day and get to know other cultures. There is no better way to learn about the people around us and celebrate with them in their traditions,” she says. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Shelley Brinn, director of Tour Adumim, says the country is full of “hidden treasures in each region.”
“With international tourism at a standstill due to the pandemic, now [is] the perfect time to explore our small but wondrous country,” Brinn tells NoCamels. “It’s time to see what each region of our country has to offer. I think we will all be surprised.”
There are too many different events taking place around the country to list them all. NoCamels highlights some of the main ones for Hanukkah, Christmas, and Novy God below.
YMCA Christmas Eve Concert
“We are very excited for this year’s celebrations and look forward to meeting the general public and friends of the YMCA, whom we’ve missed so much in the last two years. It has been a difficult time for us and for the world, and we definitely intend to lift the spirits of the city and all its inhabitants: Christians, Muslims, and Jews – people of all faiths alike,” said Rana Fahoum, CEO Jerusalem International YMCA.
The traditional Jerusalem Christmas Eve concert is set to take place on Friday, December 24, 2021 at the YMCA’s auditorium and will feature dozens of male and female singers. Outside the auditorium and before the concert, there will be a performance of the YMCA bell tower. Admission is free of charge.
There’s also a festively decorated Christmas tree on the YMCA’s front lawn which will stay up until mid-January 2022.
“I invite everyone to join us in the celebrations and embrace the important ‘YMCA Message’ of uniting all people who believe in coexistence, solidarity and the pursuit of goodness,” Fahoum said.
Christmas in the Old City
The many churches in Jeursalem’s Old City hold carol concerts and mass services, and many open their doors to tourists. Pre-pandemic, pilgrims from around the world would gather to walk along the Via Dolorosa carrying crosses just as tradition holds that Jesus carried the cross on his back. Moed recommends on her travel site, 10 Sites for Midnight Mass in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
“Christmas is an important holiday to Christians. You don’t have to celebrate but to be there for a mass, to take the opportunity and be there and see what a mass is like, that could be a beautiful experience,” says Moed.
The HanuChristmas Run takes place the evening of December 5th, and will follow a 7-kilometer route through the new and Old City. The run is meant to promote Jewish and Christian cultural stories and give the holidays of Hanukkah and Christmas a different perspective.
Christmas Tree at the Clock Tower
December brings a month-long celebration to Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Outdoor events with cultural ties to Christmas, Hanukkah, and the birth of the Prophet Mohammad, help the non-stop city live up to its moniker.
Sunday, December 5th is the lighting of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Christmas tree at 17:30 at the clock tower. The 15-meter-tall tree will be lit up every night through January 19.
“It’s always very beautiful to walk around Jaffa and Haifa at night,” says Moed, noting how the tinsel and lights brighten up the cities.
Hanukkah Candle Lighting in City Squares
Tonight is the last night to attend an outdoor hanukkiyah (menorah in Hebrew) lighting ceremony. The biggest public candle lighting events in the city take place at Habima Square (5pm) and Rabin Square (6pm). Group singing became a major risk during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic but so long as distance is kept and respiratory particles aren’t shared, tonight is the last night to come out to sing songs of Hanukkah with friends, family, and complete strangers.
Christmas Market in Neve Golan neighborhood
There’s a local Christmas Market set for the weekend of December 10-11, at the Neve Golan swimming pool in the southern residential neighborhood of Jaffa. While not as impressive as European advent markets, the market offers a local slice of folklore, artisan booths, and family-friendly activities.
Interactive Holiday Installations
The City Peloton studio – aka architects Anat and Ilan Behrman – are back with three site-specific urban installations.
The colorful giant dreidel (spinning tops) light installation will be open through December 8, at the entrance to Jaffa (Yefet Street-Wolfson Square). The installation is a great place for a fun game of hide-and-seek.
The studio, which created the installations for the municipality, will erect a second interactive installation of a giant hanukkiyah at the Clock Tower Square from December 28-January 7.
And the four Giant Snow Globes is on-site at the Setai Hotel’s Square through January 7. The snow globes include handcrafted wooden sculptures inside. Children and adults are encouraged to step on the peddle next to each globe to create a wind gust and falling snow inside the orbs.
One-meter-high wooden dreidels
There are just two more days to try your best at spinning a one-meter-high wooden dreidel at Tel Aviv Port. One of the traditions of the Hanukkah holiday is to spin a dreidel – or sevivon, as it is called in Hebrew. According to tradition, when the ancient Greeks forbid the study of Torah, Jewish children would gather in secret to continue their learning and if a Greek soldier asked them what they were doing they would pretend to be playing with dreidels. The dreidel is a special spinning top for Hanukkah and has four letters engraved on its sides: in Israel, the letters are Nun, Gimel, Hay and Peh while outside of Israel the letters are Nun, Gimel, Hay, Shin. The letters represent the first letter of each word in the Hebrew phrase “A great miracle happened there (for those outside of Israel)/here (for those in Israel).”
The wooden dreidel installation is open to all and is set up at the Port’s main deck, near the carousel until December 6.
Omicron took a visit to the snowy Swiss mountains off this year’s travel list but that doesn’t mean you can’t go to Jaffa for a white Christmas photo. Five winter photo sets have been erected at the Amiad Culture Center in the Jaffa Flea Market and it’s you’re invited to stand alongside penguins, pose for a pretend sleigh ride or see how the magical snowy backdrop looks on your social media fee. The popup photo studio experience is free for all – the props are there; visitors need to bring the people and ideas for each photo. Open through January 7.
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Holiday of Holidays
The Holiday of Holidays celebration is back after a two-year pandemic hiatus and visitors from around the country can again sample traditional foods, listen to the sounds of their favorite local bands and amble through art exhibitions.
An initiative of Beit Ha’Gefen – Arab-Jewish Cultural Center and the Haifa Municipality, the Holiday of Holidays event launched in 1993, as a festival to “promote and foster tolerance and mutual respect through culture and art.”
Cultural diversity takes the stage during this three-weekend event (December 2-4, 9-11, 16-18) that includes, among many other events, two Christmas parades, liturgical music concerts, and the chance to meet a trilingual Santa at his house in the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood of Haifa.
Head over to the German Colony to the foot of the Baha’i Gardens for the best photo backdrop in the country – featuring a lit-up Christmas tree, hanukkiah and crescent, and the Baha’i shrine.
An Israeli Novy God celebration is set to take place December 30-January 1, at the Florentine Circus in Kfar Hayarok. Novy God, the Russian phrase for New Year, is a secular, nonreligious celebration with its own traditions and decorations. This event will include traditional music, dancing and foods as well as jaw-dropping circus acts, and a family-oriented make-your-own-snowflakes activity.
The Christmas market in Nazareth is now underway and is meant to run through December 11 (5pm-10pm, daily). But the biggest tourist draw in Nazareth – besides the holiday services at the city’s churches – is the traditional Christmas procession from the Temple of Mary along Paul VI Street (Dec. 24, 2:30 pm).
“It’s exciting to see the Christmas parade in Jerusalem and procession in Nazareth. These are opportunities to experience another religion, another culture and see how it is celebrated,” says Moed. “Israelis should be visiting the amazing Christian sites around Israel, and now is the time when there’s no tourism. Go out and experience the nature and religious sites, you’re not going to see them like this again, go and experience them.”