Christmas in Nazareth

“As a Palestinian woman, I have always belonged to too many marginalised groups; a woman, a Palestinian, a Christian in a Jewish state. I have often felt that I am standing alone, always aware that our leaders could not be relied on to care for us. Instead, we have to do it.” Sally Azzam Cook writes about Christmas in Nazareth as a child.

Christmas in Nazareth was always one of my most cherished childhood memories. I was the youngest of three children, much younger than my brother and sister.

My parents had a mixed religious background: my father was a Maronite Catholic, and my mother belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church. That was my good fortune: it meant that I enjoyed two Christmases, spread out over two weeks, and two New Years. It also meant we never had to make difficult choices about which side of the family we would celebrate Christmas Eve with — having a double Christmas ensured lots more festive food, sweets and gifts!

My Christmases as a child were different from the Christmases I know today with my two young daughters. They were a lot less commercial and involved much less consumption. Christmases then involved the large, extended family getting together, lengthy and elaborate cooking preparations in the kitchen, visiting and hosting friends, but most especially doing good deeds. That was the meaning of the ‘Eid’ — or holiday.

My parents had a mixed religious background: my father was a Maronite Catholic, and my mother belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church. That was my good fortune: it meant that I enjoyed two Christmases.

The meaning attached to Eid was about being kind to your neighbour and those people who were in need. Therefore, Eid was not just a festival but a chance to help the less fortunate in society.

There is a much-loved Levantine Christmas carol, Laylat al-Milad, which my two daughters would sing each Christmas at the school carol service. My favourite lines are:

عندما نسقي عطشان كأس ماء ___نكون في الميلاد
عندما نكسي عريان ثوب حب___نكون في الميلاد

When we offer a glass of water to a thirsty person, we are in Christmas
When we clothe a naked person with a gown of love, we are in Christmas

The sense of giving to others may be strongest at Christmas, but it is a practice we need to integrate into our lives all year round. I founded a community centre and cafe called Liwan in Nazareth’s Old City that I wanted to be my gift to my home city. It was a place where the community could invest their creativity and find a sense of hope, purpose, and power.

A group of UK visitors enjoying a meal at Liwan Culture Cafe in Nazareth, Palestine

Dinner time: An Amos group from the UK enjoying a meal at Liwan Culture Cafe in Nazareth, Palestine.
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Amos Trust was one of the groups that regularly visited and supported us. We shared a vision of what we want our societies to be. Now that my family and I are making a new home in Bristol, I know that I am not starting from scratch. I am among a dear group of people I befriended during their time in Nazareth and who have opened their homes and hearts to me here in the UK.

For each New Year’s Eve, I would make kubbeh with my mother and grandmother to see out the old year — the Arabic word ‘kib’ means to throw out. I will not have my mother’s kubbeh this year. Instead, I now have a welcome in a vibrant, kind city that wants to show its solidarity with Palestine. The people of Palestine need more than anything to feel that support — more urgently than ever, after two years in which visitors have been unable to show their solidarity in person.

I founded a community centre and cafe called Liwan in Nazareth’s Old City that I wanted to be my gift to my home city. It was a place where the community could invest their creativity and find a sense of hope, purpose, and power.

As a Palestinian woman, I have always belonged to too many marginalised groups; a woman, a Palestinian, a Christian in a Jewish state. I have often felt that I am standing alone, always aware that our leaders could not be relied on to care for us. Instead, we have to do it. Part of my work with Amos will be to amplify the voice of Palestinian women, making sure the Palestinian national struggle does not suffocate the Palestinian women’s struggle.

It will be hard for me to be so far away from Bethlehem and Nazareth at Christmas. Yet strangely, it seems like I can achieve more here than I could as a Palestinian living under occupation.

This year is special because I took part in Amos’ Beautiful Resistance tour, which connected me back to the place of my birth. Home for me is no longer one geographical area but rather a place where I feel connected, valued and respected. It is also an honour to be part of the Amos Christmas Wishing On The Star Appeal to raise money for our partners in Bethlehem and Gaza.

I pray today that we can continue to do hope.
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Sally Azzam Cook — Community Engagement & Fundraising




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