The Jerusalem Municipality distributed 150 complimentary Christmas trees on Tuesday to the city’s Christian residents in preparation for the holiday, which this year falls on Sunday. It was the continuation of a celebrated annual tradition which sees the city, holy to the three major religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, honoring its multifaith heritage.
The giveaway took place at the Jaffa Gate entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City, where trucks unloaded dozens of pine trees for the choosing. With the presentation of an ID, residents were invited to pick out a tree and take it home for the holiday.
In an amusing display of the religious and cultural juxtapositions which have come to define Israel, a fully outfitted Santa Claus riding a camel made an appearance at the event.
“I wish health, safety, and peace all around the world!” Santa told the crowd. “From Jerusalem, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! HO HO HO!”
Some “customers” came all the way from Bethlehem to pick up their trees, Arizona Cypresses grown in Israel by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). Other takers were local Jerusalem residents, tourists, and clergy. One monk who came to collect a tree for an ill parishioner told i24 News that Christmas is especially important in Israel because it is a holiday which celebrates peace, a much-needed commodity in the region.
“Christmas is a feast of joy, of holiness, of peace,” he said. “We need this peace, especially here in the Holy Land. We need unity.”
The annual tree giveaway is only part of Jerusalem’s comprehensive preparation for the Christmas holiday. The city also hangs festive lights and flags in areas where the holiday is widely celebrated, such as the Christian Quarter of the Old City, and sends special cleaning crews to spruce up local churches.