Tourists visiting Jerusalem in Israel this year are getting a treat for Christmas. The city’s Young Men’s Christian Association is decked out every year with lights and Christmas decorations, but this year, the YMCA has really outdone itself. A huge planted tree with colored lanterns stands out in front of the impressive building, located opposite the historical King David Hotel. Inside the halls of the YMCA a number of Christmas bazars have been opened, with sweets and decorations being sold by smiling people in silly festive hats. The smell of spicy mulled wine wafts through the stalls enticingly.

At night, the lights from the building’s tower are so bright that they can be seen right across the city. They blend nicely with the Hanukah lanterns still decorating Jerusalem’s streets, marking the recently passed Jewish celebration of lights. The Hanukah decorations still present seem to add to the Christmas spirit that might be more commonly found in European or American cities.

Jerusalem feels like a city celebrating Christmas on a bigger scale than it has done in the past. The fact that Jerusalem’s municipality announced it had doubled the number of pine trees it handed out to Christian residents of the Old City, up from around 100 the year before, seemed to hint at this. The numbers of busy shoppers visiting the YMCA Christmas market and the size of the crowd braving the cold for the Christmas tree lighting at the Old City’s New Gate on 18 December seemed to confirm it.

The question remains however, why in a city where less than 2% of the population are Christian is Christmas being celebrated on a wider scale than in the past? Possibly it’s the creeping power of Hollywood inserting its favorite branded holiday into the minds of young Israelis. Perhaps people have decided to throw an extra-large party to make up for the lower than usual turnout of tourists as business has continued to suffer under the recent security situation? Or perhaps there’s more to it.

Interestingly it is not just local Christians and foreign pilgrims come to visit Bethlehem that are celebrating Christmas this year. A small number of Jewish Israelis are getting onboard too.