December brings a holiday for everyone, with celebrations nationwide
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December brings a holiday for everyone, with celebrations nationwide

Warmth and light beat back the winter in this multicultural month of merriment

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Celebrating the Holiday of Holidays, the cross-section of Hanukkah, Christmas and Id al-Adha in Haifa (Sapir Bronzberg/Flash 90)
Celebrating the Holiday of Holidays, the cross-section of Hanukkah, Christmas and Id al-Adha in Haifa (Sapir Bronzberg/Flash 90)

When there’s so much difficult news out there — terror tunnels! protests across the Mideast!#metoo!  — it’s far better to celebrate than worry, right? Right.

Luckily, we’ve reached the month of December, which brings Hanukkah,  Christmas and Novy God (and Holiday of Holidays, a Haifa creation that marks the cultural crossroads of Hanukkah, Eid al-Adha and Christmas).

‘Tis the season when one can make merry by lighting a nine-branched menorah and spinning a dreidel, trimming a Christmas tree, or finding other elements of light and warmth. In other words, there’s a holiday for everyone.

To make things easier, Haifa and now Jerusalem are paying special attention to the confluence of winter holidays. For more than 20 years now Haifa has been celebrating Holiday of Holidays, which marks the cultural crossroads of Hanukkah, Eid al-Adha and Christmas (some events are highlighted below). In Jerusalem, it’s the first official year of Chagim Mibifnim, Open Holidays, an ongoing effort to explore the holidays celebrated by various communities in the city.

Singer Aharon Razel sings while lighting Hanukkah candles in his Jerusalem neighborhood of Nahlaot (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

We’ve gathered a cornucopia of activities, events and ideas for those times when you’re ready to leave the coziness of your house, where the Hanukkah candles — or Christmas tree — are hopefully shining brightly.

1) You can start with Hanukkah in Tel Aviv, which is celebrating the festival of lights with Menorat Laila, three nights of art, music and culinary treats on December 14-16 in the neighborhoods of Neve Shaanan and Gan Hahashmal. Head to the northern end of the city and take a Hanukkah selfie with a six-meter-high menorah in the Tel Aviv port, or try a Hanukkah tour in Old Jaffa, December 17-18, with stories of the Greeks and Hasmoneans. And if you want to be really ecumenical, see the Christmas tree being lit in Jaffa, on December 16 at 6 p.m.

Slightly south of the Tel Aviv border is Holon, a city of museums and creative playgrounds. This season, try the Holon Digital Art Lab, where ages eight and up can try their hand at a centrifugal dreidel made with laser cutting technology (December 19), or use different sources of light to think about this light-filled festival (December 14). Register at the Holon Digital Art Lab website for one of two workshops, at NIS 60 per person.

Candlelighting at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square last Hanukkah, in 2016 (Sebi Berens/Flash 90)

2) Head to Haifa during the Holiday of Holidays, which marks the cultural crossroads of Hanukkah, Eid al-Adha and Christmas. The city’s Haifa Hag website offers loads of options, but we’re looking at two in particular:

The Beit HaGefen Arab Jewish cultural center in Wadi Nisnas, a historic and classic Arab neighborhood in Haifa, is hosting a wide range of events, including two days of tours, an opportunity to appreciate this urban neighborhood with the feel of a village, where scents of fresh ground coffee and pita mix. Friday, Decembers 15 and 22, at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Register here, at NIS 90 per person.

Go hear Carmel Soul, an Arab-Jewish band of singers and musicians performing songs of classic Arab-Israeli music and world music in honor of the season at the Haifa Museum; Saturday, December 16 at 12 p.m. and 1 pm., for NIS 20 per ticket.

Latkes, sufganiyot and the right wines to drink with them, per suggestions from the Golan Winery (Courtesy Golan Winery)

3) Frying latkes? Serve some wine alongside to cut the heft of oil and help you relax after standing over the stove. The Golan Heights Winery has some good suggestions for this season of oil-fried treats, all selected to offer some good balance to the potato-based pancake. 

Try the spicy notes of the Gewürztraminer with classic potato latkes and sour cream, while the acidity of a Sauvignon blanc will work well if you’re serving applesauce with your latkes. Chardonnay goes with sweet potatoes latkes if they’re eaten with sour cream, but when paired with applesauce, go for the floral notes of the Viognier. Finally, if you opt for a sufganiya, they suggest matching it with a sparkling Moscato, although personally, I’d opt for the Sauvignon blanc, using the dry to balance the sweet.

Is it possible that playing dreidel works off calories from eating latkes? (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)

4) Need to work off some of those oily calories, and do some good at the same time? Here’s an idea. It’s the fourth year of the 5K Night Run, courtesy of Jerusalem listserv Janglo and Crossroads, a Jerusalem organization that helps at-risk teens. Hit the Jerusalem streets on December 14 for an easy 5k, and then finish up with candlelighting at the First Station. Registration and more information at Crossroads.

The search for the lost tombs of the Maccabees has preoccupied scholars for nearly 150 years. A site in central Israel marked as the gravesite, seen here, has no connection to the famous family of Judean rebels. (photo credit: Matti Friedman/Times of Israel)
The search for the lost tombs of the Maccabees has preoccupied scholars for nearly 150 years. A site in central Israel marked as the gravesite, seen here, has no connection to the famous family of Judean rebels. (Matti Friedman/Times of Israel)

5) If you’re looking for some history during Hanukkah, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael has a long list of ideas throughout the eight days of the holiday, including several events around Modiin and the Ben Shemen Forest, where the story that started it all first took place. On December 14-17, there will be visits to the Maccabean graves, on the hour, for free.

But if you want to figure out their underground location for yourselves, register for a navigational challenge, which charges NIS 200 for four people.

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