“Make this week’s column about Christmas.”
That was the stern edit hammered down upon me by iGoogledIsrael’s editor, Ashley. Actually, Ashley’s British, so this sounded more like Ahem, Scott, if you would be so kind, could you please focus the next column around Christmas in Israel, right? I mean, really, Chap, it’s not a must, but you know, if anything comes to mind then, yeah? Alright then, cheers! (LOL, sorry, Ash.)
But seriously, as a Jew who made Aliyah for partly Zionistic reasons, what am I supposed to do exactly with this assignment? Maybe an essay on how much I miss working out aggression on Black Friday? Well, I do have a small Xmas pedigree, I suppose. I only have one Jewish parent – relax, Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, it’s the right one!!! My father is Catholic, and I actually did celebrate Christmas until the age of ten when my mom had had enough of it already. I never believed in Santa Claus, though – I mean, I knew my parents were buying me the Hanukkah presents, so it was a no-brainer they were doing Santa duty on Xmas, too. But I did get to decorate a tree and experience the hyperactivity of Christmas morning, trying to convince your parents that 5:00 a.m. is a perfectly good time to go downstairs and start opening presents.
And…scene. Seriously, that’s kinda all I have to say about Xmas. I mean, I love the (secular) carols, A Charlie Brown Christmas, office Secret Santas, and I do look fetching in a red & white fuzzy Santa cap. Who doesn’t get into the whole Christmas spirit thing….at least at home back in America? In Israel (wait for it)…not so much. It’s actually that whole world-on-its-head-Bizarro-flip thing where instead of Xmas trees, Santas, red & green and Rudolphs popping up in all the stores and public spaces, it’s giant menorahs chanukiot in all the public spaces and powdered jelly donuts everywhere else.
The other Hanukkah issue going through my mind is, of course, presents. Online shopping has made buying gifts for family in America a cinch. Goods are shipped entirely within North America, so those costs are small; nonexistent, if I go the electronic gift card route. The reverse is where it gets complicated. For example, the cousins in my family do a Hanukkah “Polyanna” for each other, where we pick names from a hat and buy a gift for just one person within the group. Well, with international shipping rates so high, it would suck to be the person who got me this year, wouldn’t it? We flirted with the idea of having all of us pay into a “Scott tax” to offset this extra cost. But in the end – as much as I liked the idea of having a tax named after me – I let everybody off the hook and opted out.
Electronic gift cards don’t make such a great gift for me here either, considering most of the North American stores my family would buy them from don’t have locations in Israel. There are some exceptions, but what if I don’t want anything from IKEA or Nike? Of course that’s not an issue if the merchandise is virtual, too – but you can only receive so many iTunes gift cards, you know?
Taking advantage of “Hitching a ride” with supportive friends traveling home to Israel from the U.S. and asking them to smuggle transport presents from my family is a godsend, but good luck getting a new flat-screen TV that way. This works for small items only.
The real Christmas action in Israel is bound to be in all the places Jesus used to chillax – Nazareth, Bethlehem, etc. I know guides in Jerusalem’s Old City recreate Jesus’ walk to his crucifixion along the Via Dolorosa, and the site where Jesus allegedly rose from the dead inside the Church of the Sepulcher must be especially holy for Christians around this time. As if they would care Most Israelis would have difficulty seeing many of the places Jesus lived and again, allegedly performed miracles, since many of them are located in the West Bank, and their Israeli passports make these trips difficult or unsafe. With our magic American passports, though, this isn’t a problem for my American Olim friends and me, and we are talking about making this trip.
From my perspective, the most significant thing about Christmas in Israel, or at least in Tel Aviv, is its absence. But I don’t think that’s a phenomenon unique to Christmas. From Halloween to Mother’s Day to Easter – one of the strangest things to get used to as an American expat cum Oleh Chadash is when major American holidays – Christian or secular – fly completely under my radar here. If I miss it in the Facebook chatter or on websites I read, I can sometimes miss them entirely. The upside is it provides a handy excuse when you’ve forgotten to make a phone call to someone important back home. Or, so I’ve heard.
All this is a prelude to the really big question: do they have After-Hanukkah sales in Israel, and if so, where are the really good ones?