There is a very unusual atmosphere as one walks into Santa’s House, located in a narrow street of Jerusalem’s Old City.
A red carriage, comfy armchair, old-fashioned tools to build toys, shiny green and red decorations and the inevitable mailbox for requests from children adorn the house.
A year-and-a-half ago Issa Kassissieh, a resident of the Old City’s Christian Quarter, decided he wanted to become Israel’s professional Santa Claus. He flew to Denver to attend the Professional Santa Claus School.
“First of all they taught me how to properly say ‘Ho Ho Ho,’ to walk like Santa, to look shining,” Kassissieh said.
Once back in Jerusalem, 40-year-old Kassissieh, who was born into a Christian family, decided that the best place to create his Santa’s House was the small cavern situated under his house, which has been owned by his family for 700 years.
With the help of a few friends “it took a few months to restyle the cavern,” he said. “I realized my childhood dream to have a Santa Claus house,” said Kassissieh showing a plaque engraved with his motto “Ho-Ho-Ho Holy Land.”
Kassissieh, who was in the past a professional basketball player in the Israeli National League, and in his daily life works as basketball coach, dressed for the first time as Santa Claus 10 years ago.
“I used to walk around for two or three days in December in the Old City and in Bethlehem on the camel that belonged to a friend,” he said, apologizing that in the Holy Land “there are no reindeer.”
Kassissieh keeps Santa’s House open until mid-January to respect the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Christmas on January 6 and January 17, respectively.
“Only volunteers work at Santa’s house in Jerusalem. The aim is simply to bring happiness to all the communities that live together here, “ Kassissieh, who
Last year, he welcomed 9,000 visitors.
Jerusalem’s Santa doesn’t just receive children to his home. During the day Kassissieh visits hospitals and schools for children with special needs, as well as retirement homes.
“I want to spread joy and peace as much as possible in this region.”