Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas Day in Gerusalemme

This thing about "cultural identity" has become very clear to me: I now know where to place myself culture-wise (because of my upbringing and formative years!): Northwest European and tinged with Christianity ...
So here in Jerusalem I miss the pretty Christmas trees and the magical lights that shine out through  dark winter nights; I miss the carol singing and Bach's Christmas Oratorio; I miss the way people become more cheery and wish you "Merry Christmas" -- even if it's only for a few days; I miss the warm mince pies and of course the stuffed turkey and the sprouts and parsnips; the holly berries and the paper chains decorating the living room; the stocking hung at bedtime on Christmas Eve; the magic of the bumpy parcels in the grey dawn; even the soft crunch of snow beneath boots; the quiet afternoon and the Queen's speech; slowly munching tangerines, walnuts and hazlenuts, dates and chocolates; snapping crackers and pulling out the flimsy paper hats and the ridiculous jokes. Traditions that pass on and on. So unimportant. Carrying such weight of warm bright memories.
But this year for the first time in my life I am in Jerusalem on Christmas Day. People are at work as usual, the students attending lectures, the stallholders in the souk selling their fruit and vegetables and much else...
I feel something missing; and I know all my shadowy traditions are absent. People are acting according to their own memories and rituals, not mine.
So I went to Bethlehem. No crowds of tourists. Very pleasing. A quiet church, dimly lit. Maybe a little too much silver and gold for that poor shivering Baby who only wanted his mother's warmth.

Bethlehem, house of bread, a name to conjure with...
Under my breath I sang the carols that I know so well: Hodie, Christus natus est, and many more. Prince of Peace; that's the part I really go for. In the adjacent church of St Catherine, mass was being celebrated. Inside the church of the Nativity there was hardly a voice to be heard.

Then out into the dark square where there was a huge Christmas tree and a few friendly families. After a glass of peppermint tea, home on the bus through Beit Jala where the churches appeared shut, back along the winding roads, across the wadi and up the hill to the Damascus Gate.
I think about all the people packed onto the bus as we drove out to Bethlehem. Chatty women carrying their shopping home, dressed in long skirts and wearing head scarves. As in the pic below:
Looking much like some of the people we see in Kusadasi. I want to hear their stories, to ask them about thier lives... Language incompetence proves quite a barrier! But we smile, I say my few words of Arabic, generally eliciting a response.
In the end, I realize, I can only tell my story. I am busy with that.
Investigating the interstices, gently removing the stones, uncovering, unfolding.

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