At the end of a narrow alleyway in the Christian Quarter, only a short distance from Jaffa Gate and the Tower of David, in a small house with a red door lives Jerusalem’s “Santa”.
Jerusalem’s Santa Claus doesn’t ride a sled and doesn’t have a reindeer with a red nose. Every once in a while, he borrows a camel and rides it through the streets of the Old City and in the area of Jaffa Gate.
He has been Jerusalem’s Santa for a decade, spreading holiday cheer and listening to the wish lists of small children who were raised with the Christmas spirit.
His house looks as if it came out of a storybook – there are red and white candies outside his door and a small mailbox.
If you write a letter to Jerusalem’s Santa, even without an address, at the end of the day, the letter will land at the mailbox outside of Santa’s house in the Old City.
When you enter his house you feel as if you are in a story of Christmas carols and ringing bells; in the entryway stands a giant sled and when you sit in it, magically, snow begins to fall! This isn’t the snow that veteran Jerusalemites know, but it is white and soft
and gladdens your heart.
Santa told us that not just anybody can be Santa Claus. Of course, anyone can wear a red suit and a red hat and sport a white beard, but only if you accept the mission, and only if you make a pact with God, and only if you are happy in your heart – only then can you make children happy and fulfill your mission.
Santa works throughout the entire year, not just around Christmas. Every year in June, all the Santas meet – about 700 Santa Claus’s from around the world gather to learn how to be better Santas.
They need to make sure they are dressed nicely, have white gloves, a twinkle in their eyes and joy in their hearts. They learn how to seat children on their laps, how to listen to their soft voices, how to answer the letters which they send, and how to make people happy.
There are also more advanced studies. Every year, there is an advanced course at the end of which you receive a diploma. Jerusalem’s Santa already has 3 diplomas displayed promently in his warm home.
Jerusalem’s Santa Claus is the youngest Santa in the world. His white beard is not yet really so long and not really so white, but in the meanwhile, he makes do with a wig. He hopes that one day soon he can be crowned with a white beard of his own, and he is excited by every new white hair.
Through the years, he has travelled between hospitals and schools. He told us that once he arrived at a hospital and a child asked him, “Are you the REAL Santa?!” And then he ran with him through the hospital shouting, “He’s the REAL Santa!! He has come to visit!!!”
On days that he is not Santa Claus, he is Issa Kassissieh, basketball coach at the YMCA for children and teens, but that is only to cover the cost of being the real Jerusalem Santa.
Every year from December 1st, children begin knocking on his door. Last year 9,000 children came, some from schools and some with their parents. Every one with a request or a letter.
Santa Claus takes his job very seriously. He is completely discrete and would not show us the contents of the letters he received; he only said that children are the people who are closest to him, and he is happy that he is able to listen to them and to be there for them.
He feels that Jerusalem has received him with a smile and with acceptance, and that there isn’t anyone who is not happy to see him. He doesn’t feel any friction; he believes that he brings joy, happiness, and peace to Jerusalem.
If you want to feel the holiday spirit or to travel through the stories of childhood, Santa’s house is the closest you can get to the the North Pole here in Jerusalem. You won’t find a reindeer with a red nose, but you will meet a dear man with twinkling eyes hiding under white eyebrows, and a wide smile within a white beard.
How to get to Santa’s house? – After entering the Old City through the Jafa gate, take the first left turn (after the tourist information office), walk up the street until you see the decorated entrance to Santa’s house.