As we all know, December is a busy time. Schools are winding down for a semester break, the weather gets colder, and the days get shorter. Lights and decorations begin to pop up, and families begin to gather because, of course, when the calendar turns to December, we have Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa for those who celebrate.
Growing up, I was very blessed to come from a mixed family. I was able to participate in both Hanukkah and Christmas traditions. I got to have both sides of the family come together and enjoy the festive spirit. Of course, this year was going to be different. I am in Israel after all, thousands of miles away from my family. The question remained – how was I able to maintain festive spirits away from home?
Israel is the perfect place for it. Yes, a majority of people here do not celebrate Christmas, and you will see a Hanukiah on every corner instead of a Christmas tree, but it’s still possible.
Cities like Haifa, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv- Yafo all have Christmas lights and decorations. Events like markets, tree decorations, and parties still exist. Also, if one has a school break for Hanukkah (you will if you come on the program), it’s a perfect time to travel to European cities that are filled to the brim with Christmas carols, markets and holiday cheer.
This year in Israel, I got the best of both worlds. I started with three days of Chanukah in Tel Aviv. I lit the candles with friends, ate sufganiyot, and joined in a neighborhood candle lighting party overlooking the beach. In Jaffa and Haifa, I got to look at all of the Christmas trees and lights that were put up. Finally, I ended my holiday vacation with a three-day trip abroad in Vienna. Here I toured the local Christmas markets and understood the history of the Jewish people in Vienna.
As you can see, it is possible to still hold onto traditions, values and festivities even when you are thousands of miles away from home. Israel is the perfect place to celebrate anything and everything. Happy holidays to everyone!
Aly Danick, BINA MITF Tel Aviv+ Fellow