Christmas in Israel: The Top Places to Celebrate

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 still celebrating Christmas with COVID-19 regulations, 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.


Table of Contents:

Christmas in Nazareth

Christmas in Jerusalem

Christmas in Bethlehem

Christmas in Haifa

Conclusion

Christmas in Nazareth:

Nazareth is where Jesus spent his childhood and is a special place to visit during December and on Christmas eve in Israel. The whole Old City of Nazareth is decorated with Christmas decorations. The main Christmas tree stands tall at Mary’s Well Square, next to the Greek Orthodox St. Gabriel Church. In 2021 – The Christmas tree will be lit on Friday, December 10 at 7 PM.

Christmas events in Nazareth:

Besides 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. In 2021 – There’s going to be a smaller event on Saturday, December 11 from 10 AM to 3 PM. There are going to be vendors, holiday characters, and more.

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. In 2021 – There aren’t dates yet. It might not happen as always.
  • 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. In 2021 – Time isn’t set yet and looks like there will be regulations.

How to reach Nazareth?

Coming from Tel Aviv – You can use Egged bus number 826, which leaves from Tel Aviv Central Station to Nazareth. 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. It leaves every two hours from 1:10 PM to 11 PM.

Christmas in Jerusalem:

If you can’t make it to Nazareth, maybe you’ll be able to make it to Jerusalem. The celebration is great over there as well, so don’t worry! Jesus visited Jerusalem many times throughout his life. He 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 is usually 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.

Christmas events in Jerusalem:

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. You can 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. In 2021 – The dates aren’t set yet. Let’s see if it happens.

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, they hold Christmas carols from 5 PM to 10 PM. For 2021 – They haven’t announced it yet. Let’s see if it happens.

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.  

Want to plan your visit to Jerusalem?

Read – The Full Jerusalem Travel Guide for Budget Travelers.

Christmas in Bethlehem:

I’ve put Bethlehem after Nazareth and Jerusalem because you would have to pass a border to enter it because Bethlehem is under the Palestinian authority. So it’s not exactly in Israel, but Bethlehem is THE place to celebrate Christmas. After all, according to the New Testament, Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

In 2021 – The beautiful Christmas tree, which stands at Manger Square, will be lit on Friday, 19 November at 5 PM.

If you would like to take part in the Advent and Christmas masses in Bethlehem, check out the Christmas program on CIC website.

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. In 2021 – Currently there’s no update that the shuttles will operate. There is also a shuttle by Abraham Tours, but it costs 95 ILS.

You can also join Abraham Tours’ Bethlehem Christmas Eve Tour to visit the holy sites of Bethlehem on this special eve. It’s a great chance to experience the Christmas vibes with travelers from around the world.

Christmas in Haifa:

Another cool place to celebrate Christmas in Israel is Haifa. Haifa is known as a city of diverse religions and cultures. It 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 takes place in 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 28 November – 6 December this year) and the Muslim Ramadan (which isn’t 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.

In 2021 – The organizers haven’t updated dates yet and like last year, it might be a smaller celebration due to coronavirus.

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.

Conclusion:

Israel is the best place to celebrate Christmas because it’s where Jesus was born and lived until the crucifixion. So no matter where you’ll go – Nazareth, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, or Haifa – I’m sure you’re going to have a splendid time!

Coming to Israel for another holiday?

Read – Holidays in Israel and How to Spend Them During Travel.

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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 lior@backpackisrael.com.

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Also, check out my Facebook page for frequent updates – Backpack Israel.

And if you need help with planning your trip, check out my trip planning service for Israel.

Yours,

Lior

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