Christmas is here and Israel is naturally one of the most spiritual places to be for the holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus. Traveling through the Holy Land, from Bethlehem, to Jerusalem and up to Nazareth and the Galilee means walking in the footsteps of Jesus.
The festivities begin a few weeks prior to the holiday with the lighting of the Christmas trees in a few of Israel’s cities. This year a Christmas tree was lit on December 6 in Bethlehem, on December 17 in Nazareth and on December 19 in Jerusalem. Each lighting is its own event with music, fireworks and festivities. Here is a taste of things to do in Israel when visiting around Christmastime.
- An inscription at the Garden Tomb, Jerusalem.
Photo by Noam Chen smaller
In the holy city of Jerusalem, walk the Via Dolorosa, join the Christmas tree lighting at the New Gate, hear festive concerts and attend midnight mass.
Concerts include a Christmas Eve Family Carol Service at the YMCA in Jerusalem and a liturgical concert at Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem in partnership with the Tower of David Museum.
For Christmas mass you can go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Notre Dame, St. Saviour’s Parish Church or maybe a church in the village of Ein Karem.
Christmas also falls around the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah which gives you the opportunity to stroll the alleyways of Jerusalem, looking at the beautiful Hanukkah candles lit throughout the city.
- Bethlehem in the Galilee
Photo courtesy of goisrael.com
The birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem around Christmastime is very festive. Join the Christmas tree lighting at Manger Square 2-3 weeks prior to Christmas and on Christmas eve, join the celebrations including the touching Pintifical Eucharistic Celebration for which one needs to purchase tickets in advance.
The festivities continue a week into the new year.
Jaffa is an ancient city south of Tel Aviv where you can attend midnight mass services in English at the Immanuel Lutheran Church.
A Christmas eve liturgical concert takes place at St. John Church
The city’s famous Holiday of Holidays month-long festival celebrates three holidays of three religious: Hanukkah, Eid-Al-Adha and Christmas. The festival continues throughout December.
- Christmas in Nazareth
Photo by Dana Friedlander, courtesy of goisrael.com
Nazareth, Jesus’ childhood hometown in the Galilee, is today the home of the largest Christian community in Israel. Because of this, the atmosphere there is particularly joyous Christmas time. Join the annual (over 30 years!) Christmas March that takes place at 3pm on Christmas eve, watch the fireworks and join mass at the Basilica of the Annunciation, the Greek Catholic Market or the Maronite Church.
Of course you’ll also want to explore the Galilee including the New Gospel Trail, take a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee and visit important places such as Capernaum, Tabgha and the Mount of Beatitudes.
Tour guide highlight
We’re very proud of Daniel, our guide who specializes in Christian tourism in Israel and the surrounding areas. He is an Israeli-Christian-Arab and he has permits to enter and tour inside both Israeli and Palestinian areas.
Fascinatingly, originally from Nazareth, the place in Israel with the most Christians (see above), Daniel grew up in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Me’ah She’arim in Jerusalem, most probably one of the places in Israel with the least number of Christians!
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