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What Is Christmas Like in Jerusalem?

Online Exclusive: The stage is set for greatness

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As Alliance workers in Jerusalem, my husband and I are often questioned about what Christmas is like; you know, since it’s in the Holy Land and all. It must be spectacular, people muse.

Christmas in the United States includes hustle and bustle, family get-togethers, warm-hearted movies, and Christian radio stations kindly pointing us back to the real meaning of Christmas. The excitement in the air is practically tangible—an air of expectation and not just for gifts.

For this season, even marketers in their endless commercials sometimes look past the great created needs of “me” and also promote others’ wants and needs. Of course, there are exceptions. Parking lots and some store lines may be an example of “survival of the fittest.” But in general, people look at the sky hoping for snow and thinking of loved ones. This is the Christmas we remember.

So what is Christmas like in Jerusalem?

The stage is set for greatness: The whole story of Christmas revolves around the life of Jesus, the Messiah; the One sent to heal, save, serve, sacrifice, and atone; the One whom angels declared on the night of His birth to those who were lost and without a good shepherd. Jesus, God in flesh, dwelling among His creation to restore it. So much of that story happened right here.

If you still don’t have goose bumps on your arms, think of the greater history leading up to Christ’s incarnation.

Jerusalem is the place where God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son. This is the place He promised David that God’s name would dwell. This is where the Ark of the Covenant rested for a time. This is where the glory of the Lord filled the temple during the time of Solomon. It’s where Jesus and the Apostles performed miracles to testify to everyone exactly who Jesus was and that the announcements made about His birth, promised since Genesis 3, were true. The heavens were literally opened here.

So what is Christmas like in Jerusalem?

Silent.

There are no store specials. No Christmas movies. No Christmas break from school. There are no cultural norms that we should be more considerate of others during this time of year. No controversy about the holiday existing in public places, because the holiday we are familiar with simply doesn’t exist.

jerusalem-mt-olivesSilent.

Within Israel there are very few believers who celebrate Christmas in any formal manner. The majority of those celebrating are either foreigners or the less than 10 percent of the minority Palestinian population that is traditional or evangelical Christians.

There is the smattering of Santa Claus decorations in a few of the Christian Arab stores. There is the Christmas Eve party in Manger’s Square, Bethlehem (rather similar to New Year’s Eve in New York City). There are a few candlelit vigils and small quiet gatherings of believers, mostly Gentile.

For Jerusalem, there is no visible change in the city from any of the other six working days a week; it’s simply a working day. Shops and restaurants are open as usual. There is normal security. The traffic is still bad. There are no big pushes to feed and clothe the poor. Everyone walks around in the typical slumber of routine, politics, and finance. This is a land that has not embraced its Savior, not even as an afterthought.

So what’s Jerusalem like during Christmas? Exactly like January 8 in the United States. It’s a random date with no nationally recognized holiday.

But that’s why we’re here, isn’t it? We are here to celebrate the majesty, power, wonder, and unthinkable reaches of God’s loving plan. We are here to proclaim the Name of the One True God. We are here to love people with God’s love for people. This is what we do. That’s what we were sent for. This is what we were trained for. We are here to celebrate the miracle of Christmas, in all of its context.

If you don’t already, in this season of giving, would you be willing to take the time and invest in keeping Alliance workers around the world doing this job? Would you be willing to
give to the Great Commission Fund so that the silence doesn’t win and that workers like us are able to continue to proclaim the impact of Christ’s incarnation to those who need to hear it around the world?

4 responses to What Is Christmas Like in Jerusalem?

  1. This article makes me think about those in our country for whom Christmas is meaningless. They face all the hoopla of the season but can’t relate to the hope inherent in the message of Christ. In a public way Israel is just more honest about it. May the joy of Jesus and His love sustain all of us as we bear witness to a world that is ignorant of His coming (both first and second).

  2. Wow. What a contrast! And the sad reality that too often both cultures miss out on life giving worship. Thank you.

  3. Praising God for His faithful servants! Joyfully giving knowing that Alliance workers are LIVING THE CALL and only Eternity will reveal the “marvelous things God has done”. Great job, Babs!!

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