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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Things that are weird in Israel #12: Xmas (that means Christmas)

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If there’s anywhere the Grinch LOVES at this time of year, it’s got to be the Jewish state… right?

Wrong!

More than 2% of Israelis are Christian, about 161,000 people.  That’s about the same as the proportion of Jews in the United States, although it depends on how you’re counting. 

But it’s not just Israelis.  Beyond that 2%, there are about 300,000 “foreign workers” in Israel, which includes many, many Catholics from the Philippines.  (I also believe that many olim from the former Soviet Union are “secretly” Christian, which would bump the numbers way up beyond the official government tally.)

Anyway, considering this country is the birthplace of Christmas, it’s usually given pretty short shrift.  (A Christian word, by the way, meaning “confession.”)

Would I be a bad Israeli, a bad Jew, if I admit that it feels like there’s something missing here in December?  Don’t worry, I’m not pining for the malls and Santas of years past.  But it’s definitely different.

Which was why I was unexpectedly thrilled when I stumbled upon this colourful display outside a supermarket in the heart of Haifa. 

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No snow in sight, but at least Frosty is putting in an appearance.

I felt a mix of sad and happy at this display:  happy that they can buy their STUFF, but sad that it’s so… um, tacky?  Then again, it’s pretty tacky even in majority-Christian countries.

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The price tag reads “Santa hat with lights.”  Santa is the same in Hebrew:   סנטה.

Santa is easily the whitest guy for miles around.  This is the Middle East, remember?  And he comes with a weird and wild selection of hats, just waiting to hang creepily over your door and spook all your guests.

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The idea of stockings doesn’t translate so cleanly.

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The label reads “pair of socks for Xmas presents.”

See all those chestnuts?  This made me happy, knowing that chestnuts can roast over an open fire anywhere in the world… even here.  (Okay, maybe no open fire; everybody saves their spare wood for Lag b’Omer bonfires.)

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Edible chocolate Santas also seem to be very, very popular in this neighbourhood.  They’re imported, so probably not kosher.

But this one was a surprise.  Elite, a company that has built its reputation on kosher, Israeli, Jewish chocolate… apparently also makes a line of Xmas tree present packs to go along with the Chanukah ones (which have been kind of shoved to the back here).

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Back in North America, I was usually so overwhelmed by Xmas that I just pushed it and everything to do with as far away from me as possible.  But over here, in small doses, and despite all the tackiness, it’s rare, and that makes it special. 

It really is a little bit delightful to see all this kitsch.

Even though the holiday is known in Hebrew as חַג הַמּוֹלָד (chag hamolad, the birth festival), it’s often referred to colloquially as… קְרִיסְמֶס (kris-mess).  In this store display, it’s transliterated as קריסמיס (kris-miss) instead:

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The date is still weeks away, so I won’t wish you a happy one.  And I’m not saying we should all run out and buy light-up Santa hats.  (Though you could!)

But if it feels like there’s something “missing” in your December… well, at least you know there are a few places in Israel where it’s beginning to look a little like Xmas.

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


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