- POSTED: 20 Dec 2013 18:45
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Filipino workers in Israel celebrate the joy of Christmas despite the separation from their families.
TEL AVIV: For the more than two billion Christians around the world, the countdown to Christmas is always a busy one.
There are gifts to buy, feasts to prepare, and presents to put under the tree.
But what about the Christians who are far away from their families in a country which is considered the birthplace of Christianity?
Each year, thousands of pilgrims descend upon Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christianity, to celebrate Christmas. The atmosphere is one of jubilation and excitement.
But an hour's drive away in south Tel Aviv -- the mood could not be more different
This is where the majority of the 300,000 mostly Christian foreign workers live.
But all too often, they do not get to appreciate Christmas in the Holy Land.
Marilyn Bathan, a Filipino worker in Tel Aviv, said that due to the nature of her live-in work, Christmas feels like just an ordinary day. The difference was that she would call her family and son in the Philippines to wish them a Merry Christmas.
Marilyn was forced to leave the Philippines after the company she worked for went bankrupt and she could no longer provide for her family.
She currently shares a small apartment in south Tel Aviv with nine other Filipinos, all working as caregivers.
Mimi “Meme” Villaneuva, a 37-year-old Filipino worker who has lived in Israel for nine years, came to work here so she could earn enough money to support her three children in the Philippines.
She said: "When they say it's a holy land, I was expecting that the people living here are very good people and that you don't see someone who… is a drug addict, but it's opposite to what I think… There are drug addicts, there are prostitutes.”
Life for foreign workers -- continents away from their families -- is hard, fraught with cultural differences, long hours and low pay.
However, Mimi and her friends do their best to make Christmas a special day.
Every year, the Filipino Association of Igorot Migrant Workers organises a Christmas party in south Tel Aviv complete with food, decorations, and traditional festive dancing.
"Here, we are celebrating Christmas and… even if we are far from our family we feel very happy... We are giving joy, love", said Sergio Tawatao, president of the Kalinga chapter of the AIMW.
For a few hours, Mimi can put work to one side and let her hair down.
"The fact that here in Tel Aviv -- which is where the life of most of the migrants is -- there is no evidence of Christmas, does not mean that they or we forget that within a stone's throw away we can actually come to the place where Jesus was born,” said Reverend David M Neuhaus.
Christmas is a time for families -- a time for worship, joy and celebration.
However, it is hard to be happy when loved ones are thousands of miles away but the Filipino community in Israel has managed to take an ordinary day and make it extraordinary.