“We are dealing with many religions here in Jerusalem. We have Muslims, Christians and Jews. I have all religions come to my house. I open my hands to everybody,” said Kassissieh, himself a Christian.
Among the visitors were a group of Israeli tourists, as well as two priests who blessed the opening with prayers in Arabic and the ancient language of Aramaic — the language of Jesus.
At 1.9 metres (six feet three inches) tall, Kassissieh’s height served him well as captain of the Palestinian basketball squad, and doesn’t seem to intimidate the children he towers over.
“I’m not a Christian, but I still love Santa Claus… We have a (Christmas) tree at home too,” eight-year-old Marwa, a Palestinian Muslim, told AFP, grinning.
Visitors from around the world also lined up to sit on Santa’s lap, and to find out if they were on his naughty or nice list.
Alison Pargiter, from the United States, waited with her children.
“It is important that our kids have fun, but we also want them to know the true story behind Christmas,” the 52-year-old said.
While Jerusalem is home to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which Christians believe contains Jesus’s tomb, the Nativity story of his birth happened in nearby Bethlehem, according to the faithful.
But at Santa House, Kassissieh said his young visitors have more modern concerns.
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