Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Because it is, after all, Christmas Eve

Santa Claus - with an Armenian twist - has come into the internet cafe and is distributing candy to all the kids here. The Little Drummer Boy is playing in Arabic. The kids are cramming chocolate in their mouths and ringing little bells and cheerfully wishing everyone a Merry Christmas in at least three different languages. It's a sort of glorious chaos, and I am glad we came one last time. The sun is setting and soon the stores will close down. If Christians are coming to the Old City, they should be coming in now.

I understand that the people in Bethlehem, in protest of the Israeli security measures taking place around that city, are not decorating their city this year, but celebrating in purely religious ways. More power to them, I say. Take the decorations out of Christmas and keep it religious, a festival of faith and personal joy. When I woke up this morning, I said, in wonder, to Karen, "For the first time in my life, this isn't Christmas Eve. It's Tuesday." Part of that is my growing comfort with the Jewish calendar. But a bigger part, I think, is the fact that here, Christmas *is* a religious holiday. (Except to some Russians, LOL) There are no garish displays in store windows, at least none that I've seen. No "Xmas Sales!!" No countdown of shopping days.

So, to those celebrating in Bethlehem tonight, may the loss of lights and glass balls and garlands be completely unnoticeable. May they be warmer than we are right now in Jerusalem, and may the wind not blow their candles out. And may they be grateful to be able to celebrate Christmas in a land where Christians are the minority. Plenty of Christians in other lands tonight, from China to, oh, our allied countries like Saudi Arabia, will be celebrating quietly at home, and hoping for the day when they can gather in public and not be afraid.

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