Holiday of Holidays Festival celebrated in Haifa
The 18th Holiday of Holidays Festival multicultural event marks Hannukah, Eid Al-Adha and Christmas in interfaith harmony
By Sarah Carnvek
It's a happening that brings tens of thousands of happy people to the streets of Haifa every December. Now in its 18th year, the Holiday of Holidays Festival is once again filling the Jewish-Arab mixed Wadi Nisnas neighborhood with good cheer, musical concerts, art exhibits, delicious bites and, most importantly, a feeling of togetherness.
It's actually a combination of holidays of the three main monotheistic religions: Hannukah, Eid Al-Adha and Christmas celebrated in interfaith harmony every Thursday through Saturday in December. "We honor everyone who lives here," says Asaf Ron, CEO of the Beit Hagefen Arab Jewish Center, which organizes the event. "The festival is very important for dialogue, community activity, neighborliness and tolerance."
On the bill are an antiques fair, outdoor art exhibits, crafts fair, Christmas tree decorating, Christmas parades, liturgical concerts, neighborhood tours, concerts, street theater and Israeli street food.
"First of all, visitors must see the art exhibits. This year the artists look at their origins. The art is at the heart of the festival," says Ron. "Secondly, the [concert] stages are a center point and a real Israel mix. You can hear everything on the stage: Baha'i music, modern Arabic music, world music, Israeli music. This is a happening for everyone. It's great to see all the religions in the same festival."
Pilgrimage to Haifa
Travelers tend to go to Haifa to see the Baha'i Gardens, Stella Maris Monastery, the Cave of Prophet Elijah, the Achmadim Mosque and the Old German Colony area. The city does not boast a particular pilgrimage site as found in Jerusalem or Nazareth.
"Haifa offers something else. We're not a holy site specifically, but we have people that want to live harmoniously; the atmosphere here is special. The feeling is one of pluralism," Ron says.
The annual festival attracts some 200,000 people from across Israel and even from abroad. More than 40 percent of festivalgoers are out-of-towners. "The festival is very important for dialogue and a shared experience of togetherness," Ron says, noting that Beit Hagefen’s goal is to educate toward coexistence by means of cultural and artistic activities.
The festival takes place in the neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas, where Jews, Christians and Muslims live side by side. A few churches are located here, but the area is best known for its art and culinary delicacies. Here you’ll find some 100 works of art by Arab and Jewish artists from across the country. And the marketplace (shuk) is known for its mounds of indigenous herbs and oriental pastries.
During the year Wadi Nisnas is a quaint neighborhood with an open-minded atmosphere. During the festival, it's one of the most energetic and boisterous places in Haifa, if not in all of northern Israel.
One of the best-loved activities is taking a photo with Haifa's own Santa Claus. "At least 80 percent of those taking pictures with Santa are Jewish," reports Ron. "It's an attraction for everyone."
Another highlight is the coexistence walks. Beit Hagefen conducts these guided tours year-round at NIS 20 per person, but it is at the festival that demand really heats up. The tours are conducted in Hebrew, Arabic, English, Spanish and Russian. Ron says they're working on getting French-speaking guides as well.
The Art Works route includes displays by dozens of Jewish and Arab artists; the Poetry Path includes excerpts by Arab and Jewish poets and explains how their words connect to the neighborhoods; the Taste of Wadi Nisnas route includes samplings of traditional foods like knafeh, baklava and olesh (chicory); and the German Colony route gives a short history of the Templar settlement amid the beautiful historic buildings.
While informative, Ron says, the purpose of the tours is to introduce visitors to the cultural mosaic of Haifa. "Educational messages of peace, pluralism, tolerance, cooperation, neighborliness and joint hope for a better future, are conveyed through the tours," reads the Beit Hagefen website.
And then there's the Christmas parade. Ron says December 22-24, 2011 is "the" weekend to be in Haifa. "Hannukah and Christmas get their start with the Santa parade that winds around the neighborhoods. The parade ends with the lighting of a hannukiah (menorah) and with two Israeli-Jewish and Israeli-Arab bands playing on stage." There really is a little something for everyone.