Nazareth’s Deep Rooted Miracle

Olive Tree Cross

The Olive Tree Cross

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.

Christmas Parade In Nazareth

Christmas Parade In Nazareth

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.

The Most Joyous Time of the Year to be a Muslim

Gingerbread Palace in Abu Dhabi, Xmas Arabian Style

When I was a child in Minnesota, I used to get worked up into a Christmas nightmare over the fact that my family’s house wasn’t decorated and festooned, that we had no huge Christmas plans, no big gathering with our relatives planned.  All the merry was not for us, the secular Muslims who never seemed to have anywhere to go or anything to do during the holidays.  The Weirdos on the block–that’s what the child saw.

Today, the adult me finds Christmas a joyful time, a day off from work, a slow month at work to catch up on life, get some extra yoga time in.  It’s my celebrating friends that seem to be stressed. Most of the Great American Christmas has nothing to really do with religion, Christian or Muslim or otherwise, but Islam makes a fine excuse to avoid the all the merry pressures.

It was years of having variations of these conversations with my friends, starting around college and into my late twenties, normally sane young women who took on a chic lit aura, becoming more hysterical than an elf getting stepped on by Paul Bunyan, that made me embrace Islam at Christmas:

Friend:  I can’t afford to buy everyone everything they want.  I’m going to be in more debt than the U.S.      government.

Me:  I’m not buying anyone anything.  I’m a Muslim.

Friend:  Seeing everyone again reminds of all the crap my parents put us through.

Me:  My family is not doing a big gathering thing, so I will not have a meltdown remembering my childhood anymore than I usually do.  I’m a Muslim

Friend:  Everyone is going to keep asking me why I’m not married until I cry.

Me:  This is the one day of the year no one, aside from my mother, will ask me as I will be invisible.  I’m a Muslim.

Friend:  What am I going to wear?  I want to look like life is going well, that I’m okay about not being married.

Me:  I shall be wearing sweats.  They suit my apartment.  I’m a Muslim.

Friend:  When am I going to find the time to decorate?

Me:  I don’t decorate except for weddings.  I’m a Muslim.

Friend:  What am I going to do if they delay my flight any longer? I’ve already had to make five different connections to get this far.

Me:  Sorry, not traveling…now can I go back to “It’s a Wonderful Life” DVD?  I’m a Muslim.

Friend:  I’m going to gain so much weight sitting around eating all day

Me:  Got to go.  They’re waiting for me at the Chinese restaurant—the Muslims, the Jews, the other misfits.

Friend:  If anyone else asks me one more time what do you have planned for New Year’s Eve, I’ll cry.

Me:  I just tell people I don’t celebrate that either, and no one questions me…because no one has a clue what I mean when I say I’m a Muslim.

Friend:  Who should I re-gift my presents to?

Me:  Not moi.  I don’t have the need to do re-gifting or be re-gifted.  I’m a Muslim.

Friend: (sometime around the end of January)  I need some help taking down the Christmas tree before it sets itself on fire.

Me:  Oh, okay, time to get into the spirit.  I’ll be right over.  Being a good friend is the right thing to do, especially right before Valentine’s Day.  Which I don’t have to celebrate either:)   I’m a Muslim.

There are wonderful things about holiday celebrations, about connecting with old friends and family, but feeling bad about not being merry enough isn’t one of them.  So if Islam gives me my excuse, I’ll take it.