Originally posted Dec. 18, 2012, at Annelizing. Republished with permission of the author.
“Patience is a virtue the wait will never hurt you. …” I am learning this in my time here in Jerusalem/West Bank. In Palestine, the culture and in the little town of Bethlehem, waiting is a common way of life.
The idea of waiting and patience can be so closely associated with waiting for the birth of Jesus. If one thinks about it, that’s the purpose of Advent, awaiting this birth of the Messiah.
So what does this idea of waiting, patience and all the activities leading up to this one day symbolize?
To me, it’s the idea of being — being here in the community with a people who have seen a lot. A lot in terms of political change, violence, heartbreak; but then in terms of biblical times, beautiful moments like Christmas.
As I reflect and share this personal realization about what I am learning in my time here, I will share some of the things that I am experiencing with my community as we prepare for this birth.
If you think about it, patience and being are sometimes the parts to be appreciated in waiting for the final result.
Bazaars, concerts and Christmas decor are slowly taking over the halls of my school, the streets and my home.
After all the political and social conflicts of November, many at my school and church feared they would have to postpone Christmas. Not to fear — the preparation for this birth is well underway.
Dec. 5 marked St. Barbara’s Day, it was a day where people appreciated Saint Barbara and her inspiration for people to be healthy. My school prepared Barboura, a dish that is much like oatmeal with cinnamon, cardamom, dates, almonds, apples and all the good smells of wintertime.
St. Barbara’s Day was followed by the celebration of St. Nicholas Day. This marks Santa Claus’s birthday. The day is dedicated to dressing up in red and white, Santa comes to visit the school followed by treats and singing.
The students carried on their classroom work, but part of the day was set aside for crafts, singing, waffles (or they call them “pop-cakes” here) and Santa.
My school, Dar Al-Kalima Lutheran School has a diverse student body with both Muslims and Christians, but here in Bethlehem all celebrate Christmas, as Muslims do believe in the birth of Jesus and Santa Claus or what they say here, Baba Noel, Father Christmas.
Another thing I learned from my friend, Amira, is that many don’t exchange gifts here. It is not a tradition. If they do, it is small gifts and you do it for specific people or kids. The biggest day for everyone is Christmas Eve. They have a huge concert and gathering in Manger Square in Bethlehem with many international visitors, choirs and food or craft stands.
Date-filled pastries are in the windows at all the local bakeries and the smell of cinnamon and cardamom are in the air. In Jerusalem, Hanukkah starts Dec. 8 on Shabbat with the Festival of Lights. Bismarks (yeah, donuts!) are in all the shops as are lit menorahs in windows and on all the street lights.
The interesting thing is the idea of Dec. 25 being the official day of Christmas. The Lutherans, Catholics and Muslims who celebrate it here say Dec. 25 and everyone does typically celebrate this day, but the Orthodox Church here celebrates it officially as Jan. 7.
My host grandmother, Nadia, told me that according to this calendar the Orthodox New Year is Jan. 2. She explained to me that out of all the occupations — Crusaders, Ottoman Empire, Roman Empire — that the Turkish Empire decided everyone should have their own day so as to avoid conflict and war.
Dec. 22 my school is having their annual Christmas party and a small concert. The Augusta Victoria Hospital, The Lutheran World Federation and the Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem will also be hosting concerts showcasing students and faculty from each of the four Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land schools as well.
An exciting time in a sense, but definitely full of anticipation and then reminding oneself to sit back and soak it all in.
Within the community of The Lutheran World Federation, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land schools and churches, we recently said good-bye to Norwegian church advocate, Sven Oppegard, who leaves his position with the bishop during the month of December. He told us, at his going away party, that he too learned about waiting and patience during his time here.
The thought he all left us with is that your “back-side,” as he would say with his Norwegian accent, is the part of the body that teaches us the most about God. Its about having to sit and receive Christ and his grace. One is forced to sit and receive the great hospitality by the people here in Jerusalem/West Bank and Bethlehem area. It also is a place to sit, wait and have patience for what is to come.
Christmas is coming, but also the present and future of sharing love and commonality within the global community — sometimes it just takes time.
On that note, I believe I will go open today’s part of my little Advent calendar my roommate and fellow global mission volunteer Jen gifted me with. I wonder what it’ll have for me today…
Find a link to Annela Rova’s blog Annelizing at Lutheran Blogs.