Tourist Tip #121 / Haifa's Festival of Festivals
For four weekends a year in the month of December, the northern city of Haifa throws a party for all the major monotheistic faiths, and the result is a rare example of holiday cheer, lights and brotherhood.
A Jew, a Christian and a Muslim walk into a street fair…and they all get along.
It's not a punch line. It's what happens in Haifa every December when the northern city hosts the Festival of Festivals, a celebration of the three major monotheistic faiths.
Think Santa Claus, gigantic Hanukkah menorahs and whirling dervishes – plus a lot of ethnic street food in a carnival atmosphere.
This is the 19th year that Haifa, a mixed city of Jews and Muslim and Christian Arabs, is throwing this party, held every weekend in December (so this is your last chance to take it in this year!) The story goes that the festival was dreamed up one winter when Christmas, Ramadan and Hanukkah all overlapped, and ever since has been a Haifa tradition regardless of the calendar lineup.
Most of the action takes place in the lower city of Haifa in the Arab Wadi Nisnas neighborhood, extending to the charmingly restored German Colony at the foot of the Baha'i' Gardens, itself a world-class site and symbol of religious tolerance.
The various churches in the city feature liturgical music concerts. Free children’s plays, mainly in Hebrew and Arabic, take place on open stages around the city as well as in Beit Hagefen Arab Jewish Cultural Center, one of the festival sponsors.
Tens of thousands flock to the city for this festival, also called the Holiday of Holidays or, in Hebrew, “Hachag shel hachagim.” Be advised that many hotels are already fully booked. You can go for just the day (Thursday, Friday or Saturday) or consider staying outside the city at one of the nearby kibbutzim or in the Druze town of Dalyat Carmel, also a short drive away.
It really is one of the only festivals in Israel where people of different faiths let loose together, making all those cliches about brotherhood and goodwill seem tangible, for at least a few short days in December.
For more information, check out http://haifahag.com
2 Hagefen Street, Haifa
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