As an observer living in Jerusalem for many years I would divide Israelis in their relation to Christmas in three groups. There are Israelis who only have a vague consciousness of Christmas or none at all. They simply don’t pay any attention to Christmas. It is hard for Europeans or Americans to understand. But here it is very easy. There is no official celebration in the State of Israel and the everyday life goes on.
There are Israelis that like Christmas and with wide open eyes look at the shining Christmas trees in the homes of their Christian neighbors. Also the few Christmas services are full of curious Israelis who walk around, talk, and sigh with pleasure over the “Silent Night”. The church choir must be very brave to sings into the general chaos. They also travel to America or Europe to see the glamour. Most of those people are sabras, Israelis that grew up here and served in the army. Their Jewish identity is strong and “liking Christmas” doesn’t affect in any way their being Jewish.
There is another group, mainly American Jews, who are happy about getting rid of Christmas and emphasize again and again, how happy they are to live in a Jewish state, where the Jewish feasts are observed. When I was in Ulpan learning Hebrew one American Jew even gave as a reason for making Aliya to Israel that he couldn’t stand the Christmas rush any more: Already in October there were Christmas carols in the shopping malls.
I have to tell you that I understand him completely. Once I saw on the internet an American Christmas show and I couldn’t believe my eyes: Dozens of dancers dressed as Father Christmas were jumping around to the sound of “Jingle Bells.” This whole figure of a good-natured grandpa with a red hood annoys me anyway. What does he have to do with the Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem? I am happy that I live in a country that calls Christmas by its real name–Chag ha-Molad: the Feast of the Birth.
Since I live in Israel I am reminded daily that Yeshua was a Jew and that he was neither European or American. He must have been very different from what I have always imagined. When I first came to this Land I observed and experienced the Erev [eve of] Shabbat celebration. I thought: That’s like Christmas every week. You start to plan it in advance: What you will cook and bake (and according to that you do your shopping), and how you will arrange your time so that the house is clean before the Sabbath. The whole family comes together on Friday night and everybody is neatly dressed. But it is not only the planning; it is the expectation of the Shabbat to come. It is a family celebration every week as we Czech Christians have on Christmas Eve once a year.
As a child I loved the lights on the Christmas tree and the light decoration outside on the streets. Actually we used exactly the same kind of candles as they are used in Israel for Chanukah. Chanukah is called the Feast of light. Candles in the darkness of a winter evening, the symbol of light coming into darkness, that’s what I love till today. So if you really and truly want to escape the Christmas rush, come to the land where Yeshua was born and celebrate a great feast every Friday night.