This time of year in Israel is always a bit odd. On one hand, Israel is the place where Jesus was born, lived, and died. The traditional midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity and the celebrations in Manger Square in Bethlehem probably symbolize the epicenter of traditional Christmas celebrations worldwide. While New York is more famous, and Paris is more romantic, celebrating in the Holy Land is just about the most any Christian can do to express and experience the holiday.
But what about celebrations in Israel? As a Jewish state, Christmas is not an official holiday and is certainly not celebrated widely among the population. However, people might be surprised to find out that there is no small number of people who celebrate the holiday. Currently, other than the native Christian Arab population, there is a substantial number of Christians living in Israel, mostly foreign laborers from all corners of the globe who flock to Israel for employment. According to official data, there are about 95,000 legal and 175,000 illegal foreign laborers in Israel at any given time. These workers include Philippinos who care for the elderly population, Thai workers who work in agriculture, Romanians who work in construction and others from Africa, China, and Latin America who simply work in whatever is available.
For them, celebrating Christmas is a tradition they brought with them from home, and still carry it out in the Jewish state. Along with them, other people who celebrate are mostly foreign executives of corporations stationed in Israel, diplomats, and more.
As for New Year’s – the picture is completely different. Although New Year’s is also not considered an official holiday, Israelis do tend to celebrate the holiday with much fanfare, mostly due to the fact that Israelis consider this holiday the “civilian new year” free of any religious or Christian connotations. Not unlike the rest of the world, New Year’s Eve is a time for massive celebrations, all night dance parties and lots of alcohol. In fact, Israeli police are gearing up, as is the case every year, to increase their presence on the roads and seek out drunk drivers.
For the tamer crowd who prefer staying away from the club scene, restaurants across the country are expected to be completely packed. Hotels are also planning big celebrations including package deals for dinner, music, dancing, and a room for the night.
The most disappointing fact, however, is that unless New Year’s Eve falls on a Thursday night or Friday night, people will still need to wake up for work or school the next morning, as there is no day off for New Year’s Day. So those who do plan to celebrate the holiday this year should prepare with some strong brewed coffee and eye drops, just in case.