My daughter, who is working in a mall in South Carolina, recently told me the following. Late in the evening, just around closing time, she heard a lot of noise and excitement. She saw a crowd of people coming through the mall doors, with their pets. They all stood in line, with their pets, waiting to take a picture with Santa Claus!
I recall growing up in L.A and seeing people standing in line at malls with their kids waiting to take a picture with Santa, but never with their pets. I began to wonder- Is this a sign of the times? Is this what the “Holiday Season” is all about nowadays?
I live and work as a tour guide in the State of Israel. Many tourists, Jewish and non-Jewish, come here during the winter Holiday Season and expect to see the same decorations and trappings here as they have in their own areas. They are in for a big surprise! Israel is primarily a Jewish country. Jews make up over 80% of the population. Not everyone is religious, and not everyone follows all the rules of Jewish law. But most people keep at least some of the traditions.
The two most popular traditions for the Jewish holiday of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, are:
1: Lighting an eight-branched Menorah (candelabra, also known as a Chanukiya)
2: Eating special doughnuts known as “Sufganiyot”
In recent years it has become popular to light a Menorah not only in one’s home but also in public areas. Malls, public courtyards, synagogues, restaurants, streets, and even pubs all have lit Menorahs. We light the Menorah for 8 nights, to remember the victory of the Jewish people against the Greek oppressors here in the land of Israel. For many, it’s an act of faith. For others, it’s simply a beautiful tradition.
Another tradition is eating Sufganiyot, also called “Sufis”! These are jelly-filled doughnuts dipped in lots of oil. The oil reminds us of the oil that was used to light the great 7-branched Menorah in the Temple, and the sweetness of the Sufganiyot lifts us towards a sweeter life. Although traditionally filled with jelly, there are now many different fillings and toppings available. Some bakeries even start displaying Sufganyiot right after the fall holiday of Sukkoth! (How’s that for Holiday commercialism…?) People can be seen standing in line at bakeries all over the country for this traditional delicacy. If you are here during the Chanukah holiday, be sure to join in a communal Menorah lighting and eat some “sufis”!
What about for NON-Jews? Will you see public displays of Christmas traditions? That depends on where you travel. Christmas in Israel is not as commercial- or as visible- as in North America or other places. If you go to a predominantly Christian area, you will see Christmas lights and decorations. You won’t see too many Christmas trees out in public, but you will see Christmas tinsel wrapped around bushes and trees.
Whatever your tradition, be it lighting a Menorah or attending a Christmas Mass, you will be able to celebrate the holidays as they were meant to be.
The winter Holiday Season is a great time to come. Hope to see you here real soon!