University of Haifa International School Student Blog
Happy Holidays everyone! Though my family is fairly secular, we still celebrate Christmas each year (I swear not only for the presents!). For us, it marks a time of unification and celebration with extended family members. We reflect on the year, and are grateful to be surrounded by family and friends that love us. This is probably not much different than the spirit and feelings of those households that celebrate Hanukah and Ramadan during this time. I was a bit apprehensive because this Christmas is the first I’ve celebrated without the company of my family. Most of my friends who are studying abroad in Europe returned home in early December, and thus are celebrating Christmas with their families. However, I ended up having a wonderful time with my friends in the International School, and only missing home a little bit.
On Tuesday, December 20th, the Madrichim put on a Christmas party for International School students. We drank delicious hot chocolate with miniature marshmallows, decorated ornaments and other DIY crafts to put on a cute little Christmas tree, took pictures in front of a holiday-themed backdrop, and sang Christmas karaoke. It was definitely a success, and a great way to kick-off the holiday festivities. My friends and classmate’s plans for the holiday weekend varied. Some people planned on visiting Bethlehem, while others opted to go to Nazareth. Many people stayed in Haifa to enjoy the “Holiday of Holidays” celebration going on here. Since Haifa is a diverse and mixed city, the “Holiday of Holidays” is a cross-cultural joint celebration of Hanukah, Christmas, and Ramadan. Events include concerts, parades, food and goods markets, tours, and many other fun activities. I haven’t had a chance to go downtown and experience the celebrations yet, but plan on going sometime this week, as they are still going on.
My personal plans involved heading north to Nazareth with some friends on Friday the 23rd. I’ve already been to Nazareth, but heard great things about the Christmas market and other activities during the holiday season. Nazareth is the largest Arab city in Israel, with approximately 30% of its inhabitants identifying as Arab Christian. It is a short and convenient bus ride from Haifa—no more than 45 minutes. Upon arriving in the city, we first visited the Basilica of the Annunciation. Since I had already visited most of Nazareth’s sites during my earlier trip, I got to act as a bit of a tour guide for my friends, which was really fun. After visiting the Basilica, during which there was an ongoing service, we headed to St. Joseph’s Church just up the way. This Church is unique because its crypt is open to visitors, with views of the Church’s ancient ruins. Next, we walked through the winding streets of Nazareth’s Old City, following the smell of coffee through the Shuk. Upon reaching our destination, Fahoum Coffee, we waited in a busy line for inexpensive, authentic coffee mixed with fragrant Cardamom. I bought two ten-shekel bags—one for my parents and one for my grandparents.
Afterwards, we visited Nazareth’s bustling Christmas market, stocking up on last-minute gifts and trying to get free samples of Arab sweets. The market was full of costumed performers, blaring Christmas carols, and a beautifully lit giant Christmas tree. From there, we walked to the sprawling El Babour Spice Shop, reveling in its sights and smells. Finally, we headed to the Centre International Marie de Nazareth to fill up our water bottles, use the restroom, rest, and experience the amazing view of the sunset from their terrace. At this point, half of our group decided to head back to Haifa, while everyone else chose to stay. I decided to head back to Haifa as I had work to do and had already visited Nazareth previously. Overall, it was an exciting and festive way to spend Christmas.
The last part of my Christmas celebrations occurred on Christmas Eve. Jael and some of the other International School students organized a potluck style Christmas Eve dinner. We feasted on a lot of delicious food, including many different potato products, delicious lentil soup, fried chicken, and a plethora of sweets. Afterwards, some of us stayed to watch Elf, a Christmas classic. On Christmas day, I rested for a while, ate practically all my leftovers, and video chatted with my family. Though it’s hard not to miss home during the holidays, I enjoyed Christmas in Haifa and am satisfied with seeing my family in ten days!
Atlanta, GA, USA
Josh, Helly, and I on the terrace of Centre International Marie de Nazareth.
Friends in front of the tree (from right to left; Helly, Tanya, Chance, Josh, me, and Sydney).