Experience the Story of Christmas in the Holy Land
Christmas in Israel is a far less commercialized event than in most other countries. Don’t get it twisted there is still plenty of Christmas festivity to be had during the entire month of December. From Bethlehem to Jaffa and everything in between. However, Christmas in Israel is unlike anywhere else in the world. The history and miracles of Jesus that are celebrated by millions all went down right here. A history that you can see, touch, and celebrate all in one.
Bethlehem: Beginning with the Birth
Although Bethlehem holds a special place in the heart of all three major religions, its worldwide fame has undoubtedly grown from the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. Without a doubt, the city does not disappoint when it comes to its yuletide festivities. Most ceremonies are set to take place right next to the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square, with the lighting of the Christmas tree taking place on December 4th. However, this is just one event in a series of December long parades, masses, and the ever-important Christmas Market.
Even heading into the first week of January there is a litany of events in Bethlehem that cater to a wide diversity of Christians. The Christkindlmarkt Christmas Market at Lehigh Valley is open again this year. Most Christmas services are offered in both Latin and Arabic culminating in a Christmas Eve Mass. There are also other holy ceremonies held at other sites of significance such as the tomb of the matriarch Rachel. Every year his eminence, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fuad Twal, is greeted by the Latin Parish Priest of Bethlehem. A symbolic rejoining of the two major Christian cultures in the birthplace of Jesus.
Nazareth: All About the Merriment
Christianity is a religion that enjoys its landmarks. Housing the femur of a saint within a space makes that space holy. Life events and places that have experienced great feats of faith are always of high relevance to Christians throughout the world. So naturally, the next stop on our Christmas tour of Israel is in the city of Jesus’ upbringing, Nazareth.
The Christmas vibes in Nazareth are far more relaxed compared to Bethlehem. They often edge more towards a cultural bent, although there is still that historic component. There is a wonderful Christmas Market with all sorts of classic and locally made bits and bobs perfect for those last-minute present needs. Also, save some room for the endless array of freshly made baked goods and other tasty eats. Another important celebratory date to mark on your calendar is the Christmas Eve parade that starts around 15:00 but we recommend getting there early to claim your spot. All this and more wraps up with a special midnight Christmas mass held at the Church of the Annunciation starting at 19:00.
Jaffa: Santa Makes a Trip to the Old Port
Jaffa is the underdog city in the history of Jesus. It does not receive the same worldwide recognition for its historic link to Christianity, but bible studying Christians will know that Peter, Jesus’ disciple did perform miracles in Jaffa. One of these miracles, known as the healing of Tabitha, took place during the days that Peter stayed in the ancient city with Simon the Tanner. The miracle was commemorated by the Franciscan order with the consecration of the Church of St. Peter in the 17th century.
Jaffa also turns up the gas on its Christmas decorations with a stunning and large tree right in the center circle opposite the clock tower. Just like every other city, there is a huge weekend Christmas Market the whole month of December with the best funky Jaffa fair you can find. The Christmas Parade rolls down Yefet street on December 27th with Santa leading the charge starting promptly at 17:30. One additional festivity that seems to be a singular sensation of Jaffa is the Winter Festival on the 22nd and 23rd. Be sure to also check out what other Christmas events are going on in the general Tel Aviv area. Oftentimes bars and restaurants will be open and serving on Christmas and they will for sure be in theme.
Jerusalem: The Rock of the Christian World
Finishing our Christmas in Israel list is the big kahuna herself, Jerusalem of gold. God’s kingdom here on earth and one of the most talked-about and visited cities in the world. Christmas in Jerusalem takes place almost exclusively within the ancient Ottoman walls of the Old City. For the entire month of December, both the Christian Quarter and the Armenian Quarter are lit up and decorated with literally hundreds of lights and several different trees all of equal grandeur and opulence. Also don’t forget to head down to the Via Dolorosa to catch a glimpse of the Christian pilgrims who come every year to rewalk the steps of Jesus’ passion.
Also be sure to check out the Christmas Market December 2-4, complete with crafts made by local East Jerusalem artisans all culminating with the YMCA Christmas Eve Orchestra performance on the 24th. The orchestra is giving its first live performance after two years away! Christmas services are held the entire month of December at the Church of the Nativity, so be sure to head down that way to experience the more faith-based side of Christmas in Jerusalem.
Experiencing Faith First Hand
Here in Israel, at the epicenter of monotheistic faith, Christians of all denominations gather in these cities to celebrate the birth of the new king. The history and belief in Jesus Christ’s origin tale celebrated and told by Christians around the world began right here in Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem. If you are able to make it into the country or live close by, we highly recommend stopping off at more than one location.