There were many reasons I decided to pack my bags, leave home, and move across the world to the Middle East; one of them being the amazing religious and historical sites that would be easily accessible to me. I mean honestly, how many people can say that they have holy Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and so many other religiously and historically important sights right in their back yard? THIS GIRL CAN! Since I scarred my sister once before by taking her into the West Bank without proper briefing, I decided maybe it would be a better idea this year to visit Nazareth (a holy Christian city within Israel) for Christmas as opposed to Bethlehem. Unlike in the United States, you don’t really feel the winter holidays in the Jewish state; there is no “winter break” per se so I really wanted to go somewhere where Christmas held some importance and significance. Nazareth is the city that Jesus grew up in, and, conveniently, is only about an hour and a half drive away from Tel Aviv, so I thought it would be the perfect destination for Christmas day! Plus I have never visited the city so it would be a new travel experience for me 🙂
At around 11am Christmas morning, my sister, roommate Ben, and I boarded a Sherut (shared Taxi) headed for the city of Nazareth. I knew that most of the tourists would be in Bethlehem, the site of Jesus’s birth, but as a local, and a non Christian, I felt Nazareth was more than an appropriate way to spend the holiday! We arrived to the city around 1, walked towards the Old City and Bazaar, and were greeted with some very lovely Christmas decorations on the way! I was expecting a bit more decorative scenery, but that could be because I am from America where every house and building is dawned with extravagant lights and decorations.
As we progressed father into the city we found shop after shop displaying various trees, holiday sweets, and even Christmas music entirely in Arabic! If you know me at all you can imagine how excited I was to hear Arabic Christmas music. In fact, the city itself was entirely Arab to the point that things as universal as bus signs were written in Arabic without a Hebrew or English accompaniment (a bit strange considering we were still within Israel, but I was certainly happy to see it since I can read the language!). When we finally reached the old city we decided that it was time to have our big Christmas meal! It wasn’t the typical Chinese food us Jews are used to on Christmas but we made it work! We stopped at a pastry shop earlier to try out some of the goodies that only Arab people seem to know how to make well but now it was time for the traditional big meal. After extensively researching popular restaurants in the area we settled on a famous local joint called Tishreen (meaning Autumn in Arabic). We knew we made a good decisions when we entered the restaurant and saw a huge, decorated Christmas tree, and all the staff wearing Santa hats.
When we were seated and situated we had a little time to figure out what we wanted to eat, ordered some drinks, and then waited for the feast to begin. In the meantime Ben ordered a beer that was as big as my entire head so he was very content until his food came! Not wanting to pass up the amazing seafood offered in the North of Israel I decided on a very non Kosher lunch of shrimp and calamari in a delectable lemon garlic sauce (I am trying to be more observant of Kashrut but it’s very hard to pass up the amazing seafood), Ben also went the seafood route with a fresh filet of salmon, and Ida decided on succulent lamb ribs! There was more food than we knew what to do with but it was above and beyond delicious! And, of course, you can’t eat in an Arab city without starting with pita and Labne!
After taking our time and fully enjoying the sensational food, we paid the bill, were given free santa hats as gifts, and were directed down the road to a part of the old city that housed a very famous Church Jesus used to frequent (it was a Jewish synagogue back then); it also housed one of the biggest Christmas trees I have ever seen! We were able to take some good pictures before taking a tour of the church and experiencing something I have never experienced before.
After our obligatory photo shoot by the tree we entered the church where Ben was asked to take his hat off. I guess us Jews are so used to having to cover our heads at holy sites that it seemed so strange that the men be required to remove their head coverings in a church, but I learned something new about proper church etiquette so that was good. The church was absolutely stunning and tourists from all over were coming to light candles in honor of the holiday. When we entered there was a very large group of what seemed to be Asian men who looked like they were getting a guided tour of the area. I had separated from Ben and Ida at this point and found myself walking through an area where the group was about to take pictures so, naturally, my first instinct was to move out of their way. As I started to move one of the men came up to me and at first I was not sure what he was asking of me. I assumed he wanted me to move out of his shot, but, in fact, he actually wanted to take a picture with me! I didn’t quite understand why but I was flattered nonetheless. Ben walked by at this point and was also invited into the picture, and from then every member of the rather large group decided that they wanted to have turns taking pictures with us (Ida had joined at this point as well). It was quite an experience and a taste of what it must feel like to be a bit famous, but I sure wasn’t complaining 🙂 After everyone had their pictures with us we found out they were a group of archeology students from Myanmar (Burma) who were doing an 11 month study tour of the region! It was an experience unlike any other I’ve had so far and was so fun!
At this point it was starting to get late, and busses don’t return to Tel Aviv after a certain time, so we decided to wrap up our our visit to the church and make our way back to the bus stop. We saw a few more fairly decorated areas as we were walking back, stopped in one more bakery so that I could buy pizza pastries for dinner (why cook when you can have amazing, very inexpensive food), and eventually found our bus stop only about 20 minutes before the last bus to Tel Aviv arrived. As we were walking back we could hear all of the churches ringing their bells for mass and you could just feel the holiday all around you!
The bus took about 2 hours to arrive home to Tel Aviv which gave us some much needed nap time after our long day of holiday touring, and we arrived back home around 8:30pm. Wanting to remain in the holiday spirit I heated up my delicious pizza pastries, snuggled up in my warm pajamas, and turned on the Christmas classic, Home Alone! It was a perfect holiday but the best present of all was getting to see Stephane after he finished his studying at University. I didn’t see him the day before and it felt like I was without him for a year; I was not supposed to see him this night either but he surprised me by coming over right after he was finished at university! It’s funny how I can see him every day and night for 3 weeks and it will feel like I’ve hardly seen him, but one day without him and it feels like I’ve been without him for weeks! I guess that is when you know you have found someone really special! It was the perfect end to a perfect holiday and I couldn’t have asked for a better day! Now I get to look forward to my second New Years in Israel followed by my 25th birthday!!! SO GROWN UP!
Until we meet again ❤