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. The 2023 celebrations will likely not be as big as in previous years because of the war. However, if you will be in Israel, here are the top places to celebrate Christmas.

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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 2023 – The Christmas tree will be lit on Friday, December 8 at 8 PM. Afterward, you will be able to see it there throughout the holiday season. 

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 – There are several Christmas markets in Nazareth, each taking place on different dates. The markets are 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 after dark. In 2023 – the markets are reduced in size and duration.

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 and passes through Paul VI Street, the main street of Nazareth. It’s recommended to get there early so you will be able to watch.  In 2023, I’m not sure it will take place.

  • 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 got the message that she bears the son of God, Jesus.

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 16 ILS.

Coming from Jerusalem – You can use Egged bus number 955, which leaves from Jerusalem Central Station to Nazareth Central Station. It costs 16 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.

You can also connect to Jesus by walking the Via Dolorosa or visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

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. Usually, the house is open from 5 to 8 PM throughout December.

    • Watch the lighting of the YMCA Christmas Tree – One of the most beautiful Christmas trees is the one standing in front of the YMCA building. You can go watch it light up, hear the wonderful bell ringing, and enjoy traditional food. In 2023 – It will take place on 3 December. 

    • 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 2023 – I’m not sure it’s going to happen.

    • Attend the New Gate Christmas Market – The New Gate of the Old City is lit by beautiful Christmas decorations, including a tall Christmas tree. You can also enjoy many food stalls and holiday music. Just keep in mind that it’s usually VERY crowded. In 2023, I’m not sure it’s going to happen.

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 the 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 2023 – It will happen on 24 December starting from 5:30 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.  

If you plan to visit Jerusalem, I recommend reading my ultimate guide to Jerusalem 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 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.

There will be no Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem in 2023 due to the war in Gaza.

If you would like to take part in the Advent and Christmas masses in Bethlehem, check out the Christmas program on CIC website. You can also check the Christmas tours provided by Abraham Tours.

Watch this video by i24NEWS English to get a glimpse of Christmas in Bethlehem:

To get to Bethlehem with ease, you can book the Bethlehem Christmas Mass shuttle that leaves from Jerusalem to Bethlehem at 8 PM on the 24th of December. The shuttle is operated by Abraham Tours.

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 takes place in December annually.  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 7-15 December this year) and Muslim Ramadan (which isn’t celebrated in 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. Read more about food in Haifa.

In 2023 – There will be no festival like in previous years due to the war in Gaza. There will only be a few cultural events in Beit HaGefen, the Arab-Jewish Cultural Center 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 16 ILS. Another option is to take the train from one of the train stations in Tel Aviv to Haifa Central. That will cost you 27 ILS but might be more comfortable than taking the bus. 

From Jerusalem – There are frequent buses from Jerusalem Central Station as well. You can take bus number 947 or 940 to Haifa Merkazit Khof Ha-Karmel Station. It costs 16 ILS. You can also take the train, but you will have to pass through Tel Aviv. 

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 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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Yours,

Lior

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