We are getting closer and closer to Christmas, which will be celebrated like every year on the 25th of December. If you’re planning to be in Israel this Christmas, here are the top places to celebrate Christmas and what you can do in each:
Notice: This year we’re celebrating Christmas during the COVID-19 pandemic, so many events are limited to a small number of people and some have been cancelled. Make sure to check if the event you’re interested in is still happening.
Christmas in Nazareth:
Nazareth is where Jesus spent his childhood and is a special place to visit during December and on Christmas eve. The whole Old City of Nazareth is decorated with Christmas decorations, and the main Christmas tree stands tall at Mary’s Well Square, next to the Greek Orthodox St. Gabriel Church. The Christmas tree is usually lit on 6 December, but depends on weather conditions.
Aside from wandering around the beautiful decorations, here are some more things you can do in Nazareth:
- Go to the Christmas Market – If you love Christmas markets, you’ll probably love this colorful one at Mary’s Well Square. The market is usually filled with people and market stalls, which sell various arts and crafts and local products. Most of the action starts in the evening, so make sure to go there after dark. The market usually takes place between 17-22 December, but dates might change. This year (2019) there’s going to be the Christmas Nights Nazareth event, which will take place between 1-7 December and will be more or less like the traditional Christmas Market.
Watch this video by Israel to get a glimpse of the Christmas Market:
- Watch the Christmas Parade – This annual parade takes place on the 24th of December and starts at 3 PM from Mary’s Well Square. The festive parade walks along Paul VI Street, which is the main street of Nazareth. It’s recommended to get there early so you will be able to watch.
- Take part in the Christmas mass at the Church of the Annunciation – The highlight of the Christmas events in Nazareth is the Midnight Mass, which starts at 7 PM on 24th December in the Basilica of the Annunciation. It is believed that this was where Virgin Mary was announced she was bearing the son of God, Jesus.
How to reach Nazareth?
Coming from Tel Aviv – There are frequent buses going from Tel Aviv Central Station to Nazareth (bus number 826). The buses start as early as 7 AM and continue until midnight. It costs about 34 ILS.
Coming from Jerusalem – You can use Egged bus number 955, which leaves from Jerusalem Central Station to Nazareth Central Station. It costs about 37 ILS. The problem is it leaves only twice a day, in the afternoon and in the evening. Another option is to join the Abraham Hostel Shuttle, which leaves from Jerusalem to Nazareth on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 9:15. It’s a bit pricey, 60 ILS pp, but at least you can get to Nazareth early. More details about Abraham Tours’ shuttle here.
Christmas in Jerusalem:
If you can’t make it to Nazareth, you will most probably be able to make it to Jerusalem and the celebration is great over there as well. Jesus visited Jerusalem many times throughout his life, and ascended to the Heavens from the top of Mount of Olives, which stands to the east of the Old City. The Christian Quarter of Jerusalem will be lit with enchanting Christmas decorations and you will be able to find some beautiful Christmas trees throughout the city. The Christmas tree I love most is the one standing in front of the YMCA Hotel every year.
Besides walking through the enchanting alleyways of the Old City and admiring the decorations, here are some top things you can do while in Jerusalem:
- Meet Jerusalem’s Santa – In one of the hidden alleyways of the Christian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem lies the house of Jerusalem’s Santa Claus. If you’re coming with kids or want a pic of yourselves with Santa of the Holy Land, you might want to visit his house. For more info, check out the official page of Jerusalem Santa on Facebook.
- Attend YMCA’s Christmas Market – This traditional Christmas Market takes place each year in heated tents in front of the YMCA Hotel and in the YMCA historical basketball court. Walk through the different stands to find hundreds of Christmas products and handmade arts and crafts, as well as some snacks. There are also wonderful bell concerts throughout the day. The market takes place between 6-8 December from 11AM to 10PM.
Watch this video by i24NEWS English to get a glimpse of the YMCA Christmas Market:
- Join the Christmas carols in the Christ Church – Opposite the entrance to Tower of David Museum stands the Christ Church, the first protestant church built in the Middle East. Every Christmas eve, on 24 December, the hold Christmas carols between 5 PM to 10 PM.
If you would like to take part in a ritual ceremony in Jerusalem, check out the Catholic Christmas events in Jerusalem through the CIC website.
How to reach Jerusalem?
Jerusalem is well connected. There are frequent buses from the main cities of Israel. There’s also the new train station at Yitzhak Navon, just in front of the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem.
Christmas in Bethlehem:
I’ve put Bethlehem after Nazareth and Jerusalem because you would have to pass a border to enter it, as Bethlehem is under the Palestinian authority. But Bethlehem is THE place to visit on Christmas. Afterall, according to the New Testament, Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
The beautiful Christmas tree, which stands at Manger Square, will be lit this year (2019) on 30 November starting from 6PM.
If you would like to take part in the Advent and Christmas masses in Bethlehem, check out the full Christmas program in the CIC website. If you would like to try your luck in participating in the Bethlehem Midnight Mass, you can try applicating online.
Watch this video by i24NEWS English to get a glimpse of Christmas in Bethlehem:
If the Israeli Ministry of Tourism will do as in previous years, there will be free shuttles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem from noon on Christmas eve until noon on Christmas Day. In previous years, the shuttle service left every round hour from the bus stop near Carta Parking Lot, which is opposite Jaffa Gate, near Mamilla Boulevard.
You can also join Abraham Tours’ Bethlehem Christmas Eve Tour to visit the holy sites of Bethlehem and experience the Christmas vibes with travelers from all around the world.
Christmas in Haifa:
Another cool place to visit on Christmas is Haifa, which is known as a city of diverse religions and cultures. Haifa is also known as a city of co-existence and is very proud of it. That’s why one of the largest and most festive events in Haifa is the Holiday of Holidays, which will take place this year (2019) between 19-28 December. This festival is meant to celebrate the holidays of the three main religions in Haifa – Judaism, Christianity and Islam, so you’ll have a chance to celebrate not only Christmas, but also the Jewish Hannukah (celebrated on 22-30 December this year) and the Muslim Ramadan (which isn’t really celebrated on December this year).
The streets of Downtown Haifa are lit with beautiful holiday decorations, there are plenty of street performances and of course, there’s also fabulous food, which is always typical of the Arab neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas in Haifa.
Watch this video by Israel to get a glimpse of the Holiday of Holidays:
How to reach Haifa?
From Tel Aviv – There are frequent buses from Tel Aviv Central Station to Haifa. You can take bus number 921 from Tel Aviv to Haifa Merkazit Khof Ha-Karmel Station. It costs about 27 ILS.
From Jerusalem – There are frequent buses from Jerusalem Central Station a well. You can take bus number 947 or 940 to Haifa Merkazit Khof Ha-Karmel Station. It costs about 37 ILS.
There’s still a month till Christmas, so I’ll be updating the post if I hear of any other cool events for Christmas. Do you know of anything that should be added? Feel free to let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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