AFP — In Jerusalem’s Old City there are dozens of church buildings, however as Christmas beckons there is only one Santa Claus — a towering Palestinian former basketball participant.
Each December, the streets sparkle inexperienced and crimson as Christian pilgrims and others arrive to rejoice Christmas.
Seven years in the past, one resident, Issa Kassissieh, reworked the bottom ground of his 700-year-old house into a grotto, full with sweet, mulled wine and a likelihood to sit down on Santa’s lap.
Welcoming the season’s first guests to Santa House, the red-suited and bearded Kassissieh belted out a “Ho, ho, ho!” at households queuing to see him.
“We are coping with many religions right here in Jerusalem. We have Muslims, Christians and Jews. I’ve all religions come to my home. I open my palms to all people,” mentioned Kassissieh, himself a Christian.
Among the guests had been a group of Israeli vacationers, in addition to two monks who blessed the opening with prayers in Arabic and the traditional language of Aramaic — the language of Jesus.
At 1.9 meters (six ft three inches) tall, Kassissieh’s top served him properly as captain of the Palestinian basketball squad, and would not appear to intimidate the kids he towers over.
“I’m not a Christian, however I nonetheless love Santa Claus… We have a [Christmas] tree at house too,” eight-year-old Marwa, a Palestinian Muslim, instructed AFP, grinning.
Visitors from all over the world additionally lined as much as sit on Santa’s lap, and to search out out in the event that they had been on his naughty or good listing.
Alison Pargiter, from the United States, waited along with her youngsters.
“It is essential that our youngsters have enjoyable, however we additionally need them to know the true story behind Christmas,” the 52-year-old mentioned.
While Jerusalem is house to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which Christians imagine comprises Jesus’ tomb, the Nativity story of his start occurred in close by Bethlehem, in accordance with the devoted.
But at Santa House, Kassissieh mentioned his younger guests have extra trendy considerations.
“Every little one asks me for an iPhone,” he chuckled. “I by no means promise something, however I say: ‘Let’s pray, and in the event you’re on my good listing, you’re going to get it.'”
As a little one, Kassissieh’s father would gown up as Santa for him and his two sisters.
Fifteen years in the past, he discovered his father’s swimsuit and determined to slide into the crimson velvet function.
But it has concerned extra than simply placing on a swimsuit.
Since then, he has attended the World Santa Claus Congress in Denmark and studied at a Santa faculty — sure, there’s such a factor — within the US state of Colorado.
Kassissieh displayed a certificates from one other heart of Santa studying, the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, and mentioned his coaching makes him Jerusalem’s solely accredited Santa.
Based in Michigan, the Howard faculty traces its institution to 1937, making it the world’s longest-running.
In his function, Kassissieh is all too conscious of the sensitivities in Jerusalem.
As properly as its significance to Christians, the Old City is house to websites revered by Jews and Muslims. For many years it has been a point of interest of the Israeli-Palestinian battle.
“It’s particular to offer the message of affection and peace from Jerusalem — it is the guts of the world,” he instructed AFP at his grotto.
“When we’ve got peace in Jerusalem, we may have peace on this planet,” added Kassissieh, who consciously avoids politics.
For the Jerusalem native, the key to being a good Santa is straightforward.
It is “at all times, to have a solution to the kids’s questions,” he mentioned.