Word of the Day Hag Hamolad

When Israelis talk about Christmas, the word they use isn't derived from Christ Mass, like the English name for the holiday.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
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Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

In predominantly Christian countries like the United States, Jews have developed their own Christmas traditions like eating Chinese food and going to the movies. But in Israel, the holiday that no American would be able to ignore without the aid of an underground bunker is barely a blip on the radar of most of the country's non-Christian majority.

But when Israelis do talk about Christmas, the word they use isn't derived from Christ Mass, like the English name for the holiday. Hag hamolad, meaning Festival of the Birth, is more similar to names for Christmas like Navidad in Spanish, Natale in Italian and Noel in French, all derived from the Latin for "birth." In English, the term "nativity scenes" shares the same Latin root. Though the holiday commemorates the birth of Jesus, that root is also used in the name of a pre-Christian winter festival called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, meaning Birthday of the Unconquered Sun, on which some say Christmas is based.

In Jewish tradition, the molad refers not to the sun but to the monthly rebirth of the moon. The ancient religious council called the Sanhedrin used to set the dates of Jewish holidays in accordance with when witnesses caught their first glimpse of the moon every month, though the rabbis have long since standardized the lunar calendar that governs the annual holiday cycle.

Here in Jesus' moledet – or "homeland" (though it has more in common linguistically with "birthplace"), which shares the same root as molad – I would venture to say that it's likely a fair number of Israelis don't even realize today is the most widely celebrated holiday in the West, unless they happened to catch the segment from Bethlehem on the nightly news. That's because in most parts of the land of the birth, the Festival of the Birth is a regular workday.

Christmas in Nazareth. Credit: Dror Artzi

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