Christmas as a State of Mind


First and foremost, Merry Christmas! Peace and goodwill unto you and yours.

I have been blogging recently about my experience of Christmas in the Land-of-No-Christmas a.k.a. Israel. While the overwhelming irony of this situation is almost comical, there really is a palpable lack of spirit of the Baby Jesus variety in the Holy Land. Christmas can be found being kept by minority populations of Arab Christians in little pockets here and there, but due to the discrimination that they have faced by Muslim majorities and the Jewish bureaucracy their existence and therefore their traditions become more and more subaltern as the majority populations grow and dominate.

Celebrating ones faith or cultural traditions as a minority is quite different than just getting swept up in the flow of the cultural celebrations as a member of the majority population. You have to work at it. You have to want to keep the holiday intact, sometimes at great personal expense. I have a friend in Toronto who has to jump through hoops and perform major feats of reorganization to be able to take a break from her strenuous academic schedule to celebrate Rosh HaShana every September. It’s not easy, but as I have found, it is totally worth the effort, the time and the investment to keep the spirit of ones culture alive as an expat.

All pretty heavy and involved for Christmas Day, I know. But don’t worry, here’s where it gets light and cheery.

I have found that it actually doesn’t matter that the rest of the country sees December 25th as being just the same as any other ordinary day of the year. It doesn’t matter that there are no Christmas carols playing on the radio, or that no one has decorated homes. It doesn’t matter that cafes and restaurants aren’t serving traditional Christmas fare, or that there is a better chance of Syria and Lebanon declaring a new-found love for Israel than waking up to a fresh blanket of snow for Christmas morning. It doesn’t even matter that my husband worked both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Why? Because Christmas is what you make it, and while it might be easier, more comfortable and require much less imagination to have it made for you, if the spirit lives in your heart then none of the exterior peripherals have any bearing on how you nurture that spirit.

This might sound all flaky and naive. So, if you can’t take it from me, take it from someone of much more serious stature:

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him; but his own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived in that respect upon the total-abstinence principle ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!

Surely if old Ebenezer could do it in the face of major identity crisis and re-imagining of self, I can carve out a little space for Christmas in the diaspora.

And so, what I have learned with the passing of this first Christmas away from my family, away from the traditions of my childhood, outside of my own culture is that even as a minority love, strength of character and conviction trumps status quo if you believe.  What a beautiful gift to receive on Christmas Day in the morning.

Love, Light and Life & Merry Christmas!

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Christmas Crafting: Golden Garland


Ok! The countdown is ON! Five days until Christmas! But no pressure or anything….

I’ve been super busy being fundamentally festive here in the Land-of-No-Christmas, and feeling more and more like perhaps this category is not so fitting after all.

Last week I had the true pleasure of visiting Nazareth for the first time (why was it my first time, having lived an hour away for the past three years?!) a city which boasts Israel’s largest Christian population, and where Christmas is alive and doing quite well, thank you very much. During this Yuletide excursion, I acquired a lovely Christmas tree with all of the trimmings, and it is now displayed in my living nook (the corridor which doubles as a mini-salon). It brings me great joy every time I pass by 🙂

During this trip, I also got to see my hubby perform as part of a Christmas concert for thousands of people in front of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Old City. Very cool to hear ‘Silent Night’ in Arabic. It was definitely an experience to remember, and was a wonderful reminder that Christmas spirit lives everywhere, even in Israel.

As for my Christmas crafting, I have been busy, busy, busy but with not enough time for blogging. But, going to remedy this right now!

This craft is a classic, and I think every kindergarten student has probably made one. It is simple, involves very rudimentary supplies and can be made with help from little hands, should they be availing.

Supplies Needed:

  • colored paper (I used a sheet of fancy, shiny gold paper for one garland and green Bristol board and red ribbon for the other. Construction paper works just fine though)
  • scissors
  • ruler (for measuring and creating straight lines for cutting)
  • pen for marking lines for cutting
  • glue (I love my glue gun, but if little hands are involved white glue, a gluestick or craft glue works well)

Instructions:

This craft is best done the industrial way, in parts!

1. Mark sheet(s) of paper with lines, 1 1/2 inch apart, for cutting.

2. Cut long strips.

3. Cut long strips into short 6 inch sections.

4. Roll short section into a loop, and apply glue at the end to secure.

5. Insert another short section of paper into the previous loop, and repeat Step 4 to create a chain.

6. Repeat the process until you have a garland of desired length.

The finished product:

Thanks to my girl Tamara for helping out with this craft! Here’s what she created:

This is a simple craft, great for families and easy on the budget. Enjoy!

Christmas Crafting: Wooden Snowflakes


I’ve been busy over here creating festive spirit and finally have nap-time coinciding with ability-to-get-on-the-computer-time. So, yallah blog!

Snow is one of my very most favorite parts of Christmas. Canada is a good place to enjoy the white fluffy stuff. Israel, not so much.

SO, I am making snowflakes from a variety of materials to make myself feel a little more at home this Christmas. First off, snowflakes made from wooden craft sticks.

This Christmas craft caught my eye on the Better Homes & Garden website one day while I was trolling for easy craft ideas. They suggested using the finished product as a wreath for the door, or making enough to use for a garland effect on the banister. I think I will be hanging mine using fishing line on the wall, but basically the sky is the limit (or the extent of your imagination, actually) in terms of what you use these for. Bottom line, they’re cute, they’re easy to make and that’s good enough for me.

Supplies Needed:

  • wooden craft sticks of various sizes
  • wooden craft shapes in triangles and squares (I didn’t actually find any of these, but if you can they’ll certainly look nice)
  • glue gun (every crafters best friend! You can totally use regular craft glue, it’ll just take a loooong ass time. Believe me. I tried.)
  • white spray paint (or gold or silver, if you’re feeling fancy)
  • ribbon or fishing line (for hanging)
  • scissors

Instructions:

1. Start by planning roughly what kind of shape you’d like to make, and which sizes of craft sticks you’ll be using. Glue gun glue doesn’t give you a whole lot of time for making artistic decisions along the way, so best to have it more or less planned out ahead of time. Remember: symmetry!

2. Begin by gluing the base of the snowflake.

3. Work outwards, filling in the base with smaller craft sticks.

4. Finish off with the smallest, most delicate features using the existing shape as a guide for symmetrical placement.

5. Let the glue dry completely.

6. Spray paint in whichever color you desire (Note: If painting outdoors – recommended! – be sure not to stand downwind of the paint… and wear old clothes, just in case).

7. Let paint dry completely in a well ventilated area.

8. Attach ribbon or fishing line with a dab of glue.

Voila! Finished product:

This craft was a wee bit time consuming, but was a lot of fun and I hope they will be durable and worth the initial investment of time.

Enjoy!

Christmas Crafting: A Festive Grove


Ok! As promised, I am dutifully updating ye olde blog with a blow-by-blow account of how I am getting my Christmas groove on here in Israel a.k.a. the Land-of-No-Christmas.

My first step was going out and procuring some supplies to help me in my festive endeavors, such as copious amounts of wooden craft sticks, glue, spray paint, gold glitter and anything even remotely Christmas-related that I could lay my hands on at our local dollar store. This step being completed, I began my crafting foray on December 1st, after having gotten sufficiently into the Christmas spirit with some Charlie Brown Christmas in the morning and watching The Nutcracker with my one-month old. Needless to say, he loved  it.

So, here is project number one! If you live in a more Christmas-friendly environment, or have general access to better crafting supplies that a dollar store can provide, you can simply follow the instructions provided by the ever-helpful Better Homes & Gardens (the source of inspiration for many of my Christmas crafts).

Otherwise, follow my improvised version below, or get crafty yourself and think up your own way to make a little festive grove 🙂

Supplies Needed

  • Bristol board (I chose green due to lack of white or cream, but use your discretion)
  • fabrics (if you have nice scraps on hand, this will work nicely)
  • scissors
  • glue (I used all-purpose craft glue. A glue gun would likely make for much less work and drying time)
  • beads (large enough to glue on top of trees)
  • old newspaper for working on
  • a variety of circular shaped objects (dishes work well!) in various sizes

Instructions

1. Trace a variety of different sized circles onto the Bristol board and cut them out with the scissors.

2. Cut each of the circles in half.

Half-circle

3. Take one of the half circles and place it on the fabric. Cut the fabric to fit it, being sure to leave a small surplus on the flat side for gluing.

4. Fold up the surplus fabric on the flat side of the half circle, and secure it to the Bristol board with glue.

5. After the glue has dried sufficiently, roll the half circle, fabric side facing out, to form a tree-shaped cone. (Note: I rolled mine quite tightly to get the tall and narrow effect).

6. Apply glue on the inside of the outer lip to secure the cone shape. (Note: using a wooden craft stick helps to apply even pressure to the length of the cone while glue is drying).

7. Apply glue to top of the cone, and place a bead in the color of your choice.

8. Repeat the process as many times as you like, with various sized half circles to create a Christmas grove.

Voila! Finished product:

Not sure how durable these will be, but I know I will enjoy mine this season at least 🙂

Enjoy!

Christmas in the Land-of-No-Christmas


It is truly ironic to me that in Israel, the Holy Land, the birthplace of the Big JC, Christmas comes and goes just like any other ordinary day. There is no month-long consumer gorge-fest, no obnoxious Musac playing in every public establishment, no eggnog, no Santa Claus and no Baby Jesus. And snow is just completely out of the question.

For a great lover of secular Christmas such as myself, this is a rather depressing irony and one that I hope to remedy by seeking out the Christmas havens, the nooks of crannies of holiday cheer that do prevail in this predominantly Judaic environment.

Over the course of the coming month, I will be blogging about how I am bringing Christmas back, to my little corner of Jewish suburbia anyhow. Props to the Christians in Nazareth, Bethlehem, and other Arab communities around the country who have been keeping the Christmas-love alive for… well, a really long time.

I will seek out Christmas going-ons where they can be found, adapt traditional iconic Christmas decor to my current climate (Christmas palm tree?) get crafty and create what cannot be bought, and get my bake on like never before (how this last item will be harmonically balanced with losing my baby fat, no one knows 🙂

Stay tuned for twenty days of Christmas tidings, from the Land-of-No-Christmas!

Arab IDF Soldier, keeping it real for Christmas

The First Day of the Rest of My Life


I know, blog entries that are titled under hopeless cliches should be categorically avoided. But in this case it really does apply and if, as they say, every stereotype holds some grain of truth, well then I think every cliche must also have a truly fitting occasion.

I am a fortunate soul for any number of reasons. Instead of indulging in an endless list of why my life is so great though, I would like to focus on an event that realized my life’s true purpose, fulfilled my deepest dream and changed the course of my life irreparably all in a matter of moments; I became a mother.

First a little bit about the lead in:

I am one of these freakish women who enjoyed being pregnant. Really! Being my first child, I had only myself to take care of and therefore indulged in naps, books, 10 hours of sleep every night without even the slightest hint of guilt. I had everyone warning me that as soon as I became a mother, there would be a violent end to all of these pleasures, so I dully took advantage. Being a dance and fitness instructor by profession, I remained active continuing to teach and dance until week 38. Granted, by the end I wasn’t doing too many jumping jacks, burpees or grand jetes but I felt like I was taking care of myself, and remaining strong and fluid, which I am convinced helped with my amazing labor and birth.

Yes, I am also one of these insane women who actually enjoyed their labor and delivery. I took pleasure in visioning and then realizing my dream birth. I have known for many years that I wanted to give birth in the privacy and comfort of my home, and through diligence, co-research and (I admit) some nagging, my partner came to see the benefit of home birth as well, and we decided to go for it. Assisted by an incredibly gifted, experienced and wonderful midwife named Rozie my husband and I prepared to welcome our son into the world, in peace, without drugs, and on our terms. I have never felt so empowered and deeply connected to my sense of self. It was the defining experience in my life thus far.

In line with this vision, and how it was actualized, I will not describe my delivery of our son as painful, tortuous, unbearable or any of the other adjectives that so typically accompany birth stories. Yes, it was intense. Yes, it was consuming in some moments. The body sensations were certainly strong, and there was a moment or two where I felt blown away by the power of the life-force coming through me. “Pain” for me holds such negative connotations though, and I would feel dishonest and just wrong describing any element of the labor or birth in negative terms.

For me, birthing was a deep meditation; a communion with some essential current that courses through a laboring woman. It was true woman’s work. I felt my body and breath and mind and spirit working together like a finely calibrated, powerful vessel. I found myself knowing exactly what to do, even though I had never done anything like it before. Yotam, my partner, was exactly in the right place at the right time, flowing with the birthing energy that we had created together, in the security of our home. Rozie was a strong pillar of support, there when she was needed, and silently present when she saw that we were in a good groove on our own. It was mighty, and powerful and just felt right.

I delivered our son 30 minutes after dilating fully in the warm, relaxing waters of a birthing pool, with the encouragement and support of my husband, my mother and my midwife. While I only entered the pool for this very last stage (it all went so quickly! fortunately the pool was ready just in time) it gave me exactly the added boost that I needed to bring our baby into the world.

Our son came gently  into the world, in his own time with his eyes open, pure, naturally, and with abundant love. Taking his tiny, purple body into my arms and hearing his first breaths of life convinced me that this is what I was made for. I know now that being a mother is my true purpose in life, and this defining experience serves as a momentous juncture, from whence I set onward to the rest of my life, as a mother.