This year I happen to have written an unprecedented amount on Christmas related and Palestine related matters, although not in conjunction with each other. So perhaps it’s best to end the year with where Christmas and Palestine actually met for me a year ago. Where they’ve met since the beginning of Christianity: In Nazareth. At an olive tree, of course.
On the way to visit family last December, I stopped by Nazareth to see the family of close friends of mine in Los Angeles. Accompanying me on this journey was another friend Cynthia Capriata, a Peruvian artist on her first venture into the Holy Land. When we arrived early in the morning, Cynthia was in a festive tourist mood, which balanced out the heaviness that often falls on me in this country.
We were greeted by Habib, a guy who understands Nazareth present, past and future better than anyone. When I asked Habib if he knew the sister of another dear family friend, he of course did, and we started our morning at her house, near the Christmas tree where she read our coffee cups for us. Her husband, a retired teacher, in typical local fashion, meanwhile grilled me on my family tree until he was satisfied that he had either taught or been taught by some of my relatives. He actually knew more of my family than I did. After our coffee cups confirmed happy futures, Habib with full graciousness, took us around town to all the historic sites, his 11-year old daughter tagging along. We saw the churches, the old homes turned into boutique hotels, the old souq with people rushing about for last minute dinner ingredients and gifts. Until it was time for us to find a rooftop spot at Habib’s mother-in-law’s house, where we had a perfect view, despite the wind and rain, of Nazareth’s annual Christmas parade, a two-hour small town extravaganza that involves Santa Claus, a series of marching bands, and cars with important people of all faiths waving from them.
The miracle moment wasn’t that the wind didn’t knock Santa down or that our coffee cups assured us of great happiness. It came early in the day, when we stopped by Habib’s house to wish his mother a happy Christmas. Habib paused at the olive tree at the entrance of the house. “How do you explain this?” Habib asked. He was pointing to the lower section of the tree, where the leaves and branches had formed a cross. At first I thought he’d propped in a cross he’d made of olive branches. But this cross was unquestionably part of the tree. The tree has become somewhat of a legend in the neighborhood no matter the season. Whether you believe it or not, in a land like this, it is a reminder that miracles, often much needed here, are deep rooted–sometimes literally—all year long.