Jordan Chickpeas

jordan chickpeasChristmas in mainstream Jewish Israel is a non-event, but in the Galilee, where 50% of the population is Arab, it’s another story.  In those Arab cities and towns where there is a Christian population, Christmas lights and decorations light up the evenings, and nighttime Christmas bazaars attract visitors, regardless of religion, over the weekend before the holiday.  This year thousands flocked to the Christmas market in Nazareth to see a performance by the winner of last year’s Arab Idol – a young Palestinian singer from Gaza.

We, on the other hand, were invited by our friend Akram to attend a more low-keyed Christmas market in his home town of Shefar’am.   A lesser known Arab city than Nazareth, Shefar’am has its own thousands of years of history, including settlement by Canaanite, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze communities.  The city still retains an ethnically mixed population, with many Muslims, fewer Christians, even fewer Druze, and no Jews.  At the Christmas market, crowds of Shefar’am’ites filled the narrow streets that lead to the historic center of town, which is shared by a mosque, church and defunct synagogue.

In front of the Orthodox Church, we passed two unorthodoxly thin and youthful Santas posing with children on their laps, then left the bustle and noise behind us. Inside, we reveled at the church’s exquisite beauty, somber eastern icons and a soaring performance by a choir from the neighboring Jewish anthroposophic community. There was a guest of honor in the audience, an archbishop from Lebanon in a tall black hat and black robes, who extended his hand to be kissed by a group of earnest young nuns.

From the stalls in the Christmas market, we collected black coffee and zaatar mixture give-aways. I bought a Palestinian needlework pillowcase and a bag of traditional anise-scented Christmas cakes, and we snacked on steamed lupine seeds and fava beans sprinkled with cumin.  Akram’s relatives greeted us with sips of Black Label cheer at an open-house in one of the historic buildings the family owns in the heart of the city.  While vendors of grilled meat were everywhere, in consideration of Muslim sensibilities, it was decided that the pig on the spit that was part of the previous year’s market menu would not be repeated.

Before we left, Akram gave us a bag of white and pink candies, freshly made for Christmas, to take home.  They had the same sugar-shellac coating like the Jordan Almonds which were once my movie theater candy of choice – but the shape was different – these were small, round and bumpy.  The surprise was what was inside – a roasted chick pea.  My kind of Christmas candy!

With my best wishes for a Happy 2015!


  1. Nice to have friends like Akram who served as your guide into and through the Christmas traditions of a still present Christian and Arab community. Your observations lead me to wonder about the ongoing viability of the shared community as its population will inevitability be affected by external political and economic forces to which its residents can only respond to, but not effect.

    As a personal note, this is the type of blog that most interests me as my culinary skills are limited to table manners. Historical references to your neighborhood and your own interest in them create the imagery that encourages me to come to see and understand them as well.

    Have you thought about providing your blog followers with an Annual Highlight Collection of your blog’s? If so, this would be one to include!

    Looking forward to next years observational and interpretive treats!


  2. sally gil says:

    I love your blog, and especially this post, maybe because it was longer and I felt like I was walking along with you.
    Thank you and Happy New Year, I wish you and family all the best!

  3. What a feast for the senses! Thanks for such a vivid description of a memorable scene, and for reminding us of the Christmas message of peace and goodwill.

  4. A lyrical, enlightening post as always, Abbie. I love your writing, your stories, your sensibility… Always inspiring. Wishing you and yours an abundant new year, and hope to see you again in Oxford. Laura xx

    • Abbie Rosner says:

      Thank you Laura! I know I owe you a recipe – I need to get to that one of these days!
      Have a wonderful new year and I hope we meet again soon – a.