Christmas in the Holy Land

Xmastree Here in Israel, the birthplace of Christianity, the religious faith of 1/3 of the people on the planet — roughly 2 billion people — December 25 is just another working day.  Or, rather, it would be a working day if it did not fall on the Sabbath (Saturday).

I recently had business trips to both the Philippines and the United States.  In both places you could certainly tell that Christmas was coming; in the Philippines there were Christmas trees and decorations everywhere…and my visit there was in November…and in the US there were the interminable Christmas songs on the radio, without refuge: even my favorite jazz station was playing jazz versions of Christmas standards.

By contrast, here in the holy land you have to go out of your way to see some Christmas decorations, and you'll never hear a Christmas song on the radio.

I'm of mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, it's kind of cool not to have that minority feeling that comes in December.  No need to have discussions with the high school age kids about the experience of being an outsider, a Jew during the Christmas season.  And the truth is, the Christmas music on the radio drives me bonkers after a couple of weeks.  Enough already!

On the other hand, I used to enjoy going out and looking at the light displays, and it was nice that people for the most part were in a better mood, more friendly, a little more relaxed (except for those who work in retail), a slower time of year in the business world.

I actually think Christmas is TOO low profile in Israel.  It should be a little more visible.  There are some over the top religious people who can't tolerate any other religions, who protest anything that even looks like Christmas lights.  I'm not kidding, click here to see an article titled "Haredim threaten to boycott Mamilla Mall."  Why?  Christmas lights.  The management of the mall tried to quickly claim it was Hanukkah lights left up late.

Why should they do that?  Not only do Christians make up 2% of the population in Israel, we get a LOT of Christian tourists this time of year, for obvious reasons.  Why shouldn't we do something to make them feel at home?  Most major cities in the US do a Chanukah menorah lighting in a public place, why can't we in Israel reciprocate and give Christians some acknowledgement of their holiday in our public space?

The YMCA in Jerusalem does put up some lights outside, and they have a tree inside, but it's pretty subdued compared with the displays you see in America.  I would encourage them to study the Denver Civic Center for some ideas.

But if Galei Tzahal starts playing Silent Night, I'll be the first to protest!

Even if they stick to the Christmas tunes that were written by Jews. *


*Christmas songs written by Jews include the following:

White Christmas by Irving Berlin
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer by Johnny Marks
The Christmas Song (aka chestnuts roasting on an open fire) by Mel Torme
Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne
Silver Bells by Livingston and Evans


Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

2 thoughts on “Christmas in the Holy Land

  • Hi Barry – David Yonke in his recebt Blade article interviews four Toledoans from non-Thristian traditions on their feelings during the Christmas season.I sense a strong tendency to consider this a Cultural holiday as well as a blend of various traditions. I certainly do. Is not the tree pagan, and the solstice, and how was 25 Dec selected? I note that none of the Christmas songs you cited touch Christian theology or myths, but are simply “seasonal”. And lights appear in all traditions. Why can’t each culture where the “minorities” have CHOSEN to call home celebrate ALL the holidays?! Best wishes. Woody Trautman

  • Hi Woody, it’s a lovely idea, but for theological reasons I think it would be tough for people to celebrate all holidays. But we can at least learn acceptance of others…America does a much better job of this than Israel does.


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