Itongadol.- Though there may not be as many bright lights and glitzy department store displays as in other countries around the world, Christmas in the Holy City is not hard to find.
Across Jerusalem, despite the recent wave of terrorism which claimed the lives of two men near Jaffa Gate on Wednesday, Christmas is being celebrated in a variety of ways by both Christians and those of other faiths who are interested in the traditions – or merely love a good celebration.
At the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City, American Rev. Carrie Ballenger Smith, pastor of the church’s English-speaking congregation, will be heading over to Bethlehem with the church’s three congregations (Arabic, German and English) for a special service in the city, before a much more casual service on Christmas morning to sing carols.
Celebrating Christmas in Jerusalem, in Ballenger Smith’s eyes, is different than abroad, but all the more spiritual. “In some ways it’s good, so it’s a much greater reminder of what it is to celebrate Christmas here, so it’s nice to be away from the consumerism of the United States culture, especially around Christmas, where the message is often that Christmas is about buying more and having more,” she says.
Also attending proceedings at the Church of the Redeemer will be Janna Busboom and Lydia Beier, two cousins from Frankfurt, Germany, who are currently volunteering in the Old City. They’ll be taking part in the threehour pilgrimage from Jerusalem to Bethlehem later on in the evening alongside many Christian volunteers from around the world who currently reside in Jerusalem.
Though both are sad not to be with their parents for the holiday, Janna comments that her parents said that both her and Lydia are “so blessed to be here in this holy country,” while noting that it is almost surrealistic to take part in such a different Christmas climate.
Over at the historic American Colony Hotel in Sheikh Jarrah, its traditional luxury Christmas Eve dinner will be served in the midst of an abundance of Christmas spirit, with children from the local area able to see Santa making a grand entrance into the hotel lobby heralded by the bells of Christmas.
For the hotel’s general manager, Thomas Brugnatelli, the Christmas spirit at the Colony is something that it takes great pride in every year. “It’s definitely a tradition here at the Colony, and every year we make an effort to make it the place to come and see and feel the Christmassy spirit,” he said.
For Brugnatelli, however, tomorrow will be much like any other day. He told The Jerusalem Post that “when you work in the hotel industry, it’s a normal work day with a different atmosphere and a bit more food.”
Over at the YMCA on King David Street, Christmas is something the institution tries to share with Jerusalemites from all walks of life, hosting a three-day Christmas bazaar this month attended by just under 5,000 people.
“During this past weekend we had many clergy as well as many Jews with kippas on their heads,” said Amos Gil, CEO of Jerusalem International YMCA .
In Gil’s eyes, what the YMCA provides Jerusalemites with is a “secular Christmas.”
“What we’re trying to convey is that you don’t have to be Christian to celebrate Christmas; you don’t have to be Jewish to celebrate Hanukka. Everybody can come here and celebrate each other’s holidays and experience one another’s joyful events,” he explained.
He noted that during December the YMCA had held events to celebrate Hanukka, Mawlid [the birthday of Muhammad] and now Christmas.