ICEJ Helps Save Christmas in Nazareth

By: Nativia Samuelsen

The morning mist cleared as we drove up into the hilltop city of Nazareth. Our ICEJ team was surprised as the vibrant city, normally filled with beautiful lights and colorful decorations by this time of December, was stripped of all its holiday joy and excitement. In its place were signs for local elections, posters about the war in Gaza, and dozens of closed businesses.
Every year thousands of tourists usually flood Nazareth and Bethlehem during the Christmas season. But given the current war and somber mood in the Land, many of the traditional Arab Christian churches have decided to forgo any public decorations or festivities in the Holy Land this year.


However, the Christmas message of hope and light in our spirits could not be dampened. Instead, we put on our Christmas hats, teamed up with a local Arab church, and dove into spreading some cheer this holiday season in a land that desperately needs it.

“There is no Christmas in the city!” exclaimed a local Arab pastor, Saleem Shalash, as we entered his church in Nazareth. “We can’t even buy a Christmas tree, and the Christmas parade, where we historically give out thousands of gifts to the community, has been canceled. This is all because of the war in Gaza. It’s all politics.”

Pastor Saleem led us to the church warehouse, stacked with toys, chocolates, and greeting cards. “Christmas is our biggest outreach project in the entire year,” he explained. “And it is our chance to share the powerful story of the birth of Jesus. So what will we do this year? Should we continue to reach out—or retreat into our homes in silence?”

“We will not retreat,” he added, pointing to hundreds of packaged gifts in the warehouse. “Rather, we will go out and show this community that Yeshua is the reason for the season!”

Moved by the church’s determination to celebrate Christmas, we set to work. The atmosphere in the church’s gift-packing warehouse was like a Christmas workshop, brimming with excitement. We busied ourselves by helping Pastor Saleem and his team pack holiday presents and wrap gifts for 2,000 children! Our hard work brought a grateful smile to the pastor’s face, appreciative of our efficiency and spirit.

So is Christmas truly canceled? Not in the hearts of the many Christians in Israel, and certainly not in the countless smiles on children’s faces when they receive their gifts. We refused to let the light and joy of the Christmas story go dim this year in the Land of the Messiah’s birth.

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