An unusual “Hanukkah Christmas” tale, which takes us from Bethlehem to the Dead Sea. On the way we also pass through Jerusalem, like the Magi. It happened a few years ago.
Bethlehem, where it all began
Marianna and I were to do some filming in Bethlehem, at the Christmas Eve celebration. It promised to be an incredible experience, and it really was We set off for Bethlehem, with confirmation that the organizers have thought of everything. Then we arrived by taxi, through the Jaffa gate, on the morning of the 24th of December. We crossed the border. On the other side of the wall there was total confusion: heads of state, important people, soldiers. All were heading at the same time for the Basilica of the Nativity, where Christian history began.
We meet Fausta, our travelling companion from now on, and our brilliant Palestinian cameraman, Hanna Abu Saada, introduced to us by the former director of events at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, Gilli Mendel.
There was no place for them…
The Christmas Vigil in Bethlehem is impressive: the parade of the scouts with the bands through the streets of the city, the concert of the Trentino choir in the cloister where the Tesero crib is located, the many cribs set up in every corner. Mass is celebrated in the basilica with an unprecedented solemnity, and the queue to enter takes several hours. Bethlehem is the true city of Christmas. One cannot think about it enough.
Once the filming was over, we were very tired, tired from the crowd, stressed by the continuous controls, foggy from not having eaten or drunk. We went to the hotel that should have been booked: “There is no room for you”, we are told, “the reservation was for yesterday”. Our heads started spinning. We asked for a room – impossible. All the hotels in Bethlehem were overflowing. We looked for a taxi, but everything was blocked. Just like in the best stories, there was no room for us in Bethlehem on the 24th of December!
In the meantime, it was getting colder and colder, and the three of us were waiting for something, we didn’t even know what. The hotelier let us stay in the lobby and lent us a malfunctioning electric cooker.
The night drive to Jerusalem
Miraculously, I managed to get a line and started calling everyone I knew in Jerusalem. The Israelis could not get into the car to pick us up. An Arab driver, an old acquaintance, answered. He agreed to leave to come and pick us up.
At 11.30 p.m., the three of us were all settled in his car, a little tired from this incredible Christmas Eve. We took a long ride to get around the queues and the blockades. The Muslim driver turned on the music on his mobile phone: he found Christmas carols for us in Arabic by the Lebanese Fairuz. It’s midnight, it’s Christmas. But it is also time to light the first Hanukkah candle! Hanukkah is the Jewish festival of light, every day one more candle is lit, until the candelabrum is completed with 8 candles.
Tale of a “Hanukkah Christmas” from Bethlehem to the Dead Sea: : “Hanuk-christmas”
We arrived in the dark in Jerusalem, where the rest of the family was waiting for us, guests in the home of a religious Jewish family. Everyone was gathered, Gili and Hedva with their five children, their parents and other relatives. Together, we lit candles for our respective holidays, opened presents and sang.
The singing was the highlight: traditional Christmas carols were intertwined with the typical Hannukah songs and the rhythm of the most beautiful Psalms. Hedva, with whom we founded Women of Faith for Peace, filled the hall with her smile, full of light.
We renamed the evening ‘Hanuk-christmas’: after an adventure full of scout bagpipes, taxis and singing in Arabic, we were home.
Tale of a “Hanukkah Christmas” to the Judean Desert
And Christmas Day cannot be less than Christmas Eve. We set off in the car, picnic ready for a Christmas on the Dead Sea again with Gili and Hedva.
Unfortunately, we didn’t go swimming to stay afloat – the sea was very rough! But we still managed to get some mud on our faces. And then all the way up into the Judean desert roads, in complete detachment from the world, for an immersion in contemplation.
Towards evening we return to the Old City of Jerusalem and managed to go to Mass, near Herod’s palace, like the Wise Men once did.