People have asked me why Israel doesn’t “do Christmas”. And by “do Christmas” what they mean is the commercial extravaganza I see in the Christian countries. I’m also aware this has even spread further afield too: I’m sure China celebrates, their economy is completely dependent on selling the world their Christmas presents!
I grew up over there, in the Christian west. I watched my friends and their trees, families and presents. There weren’t even Chinese restaurants open on Christmas Day when I grew up in the UK! What was a Jew to do? For most of my childhood I was in South Africa on Christmas day: a BBQ in the sun by the pool but amongst Jews. Always it was slightly awkward.
Today it’s the 25th of December and a regular Friday morning in Tel Aviv. My kids have school (a slightly shorter day than Sunday to Thursday). Most office workers don’t work Friday and everything winds down to close a few hours before sunset when Shabbat starts.
So my kids didn’t wake up to a tree, presents or the prospect of a large extended family eating an extravagant meal today. And they didn’t miss it.
We got them ready for school, shouted at them to stop playing Minecraft and put their shoes on and I walked them down the road to the school. Where I left them to come home to some quiet time listening to early Beatles albums.
There are, of course, a large (and growing) number of Christians in Israel and they’re welcome to celebrate their religious holiday. Just down the road in Jaffa there’s a Christmas market and decorated trees. And to some extent they’re following a more religious celebration that’s largely been sucked out of the over commercialised thing it’s become elsewhere.
Israel doesn’t need a Christmas because we have an almost bottomless well of meaningful traditions and religious observances that are uniquely ours. They’re Jewish. We’ve observed some of them since before almost any other recognisable culture that still flourishes today. And they’re deeply tied to our land here in Israel.
I’ve written about how Sukkoth matches the weather. We say in one of our more modern observances, Chanukah, “A Great Miracle Happened HERE”. When we observe this one from outside Israel we say “A Great Miracle Happened THERE”. Passover is the lead up to how we got back to Israel as an emancipated nation, freed from bondage of body, mind and spirit. The list is extensive. There are numerous other major and minor observances scattered through the year.
And another thing I love here: the religious, cultural and traditional observances intermingle. Chabad Rabbis turn up at banks in non-observant neighbourhoods, light candles for Chanuka, hand out free doughnuts and nobody gets upset. My new immigrant father was gobsmacked when he encountered this for the first time a few weeks ago.
So we don’t need Christmas. I don’t miss it. I absolutely love that the rest of the world can do whatever it wants, and that I can be unapologetically Jewish in my own lands. I’m wholeheartedly wishing Merry Christmas to all who observe it, I hope you have a wonderful day!
And I can assure you that not giving my kids presents, and dropping them at school on Christmas Day does not constitute child abuse. But I am taking them to see Star Wars this evening, that’s my Christmas treat.