It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that people often choose to visit Israel during the Christmas holiday. But what may be surprising to some is that visitors will not find the same level of traditional holiday merriment that they are used to experiencing in the United States. While Christmas decorations and celebratory events may not be prevalent throughout the entire country, there are certainly a few places to enjoy the festivities.
Photo by Mark Nakasone
Of course, celebrating the birth of Jesus is a major event in the city where he was born. Thousands of people flock to the tiny town of Bethlehem each year to commemorate the sacred occasion. The streets of Bethlehem are lined with Christmas lights and visitors can enjoy a Christmas market as well as various plays, parades, and religious services lead by various Christian denominations. Travelers should not pass up the opportunity to visit the Church of the Nativity, built on the spot believed to be the location of Jesus’ birth. A walk to Manger Square will allow visitors to hear the carolers who come to sing the classic Christmas songs.
Nestled in the 2,000-year-old city of Galilee is Jesus’ childhood home of Nazareth. With a large Christian population, Nazareth is one area of Israel that celebrates Christmas to the fullest. While visitors are not likely to see any snow or Santa Claus walking around town, they are sure to find many cultural and religious events, including street fairs, parades, and church services.
On December 24, one of the highlights is the Christmas Parade, where youth and Christian leaders walk through the streets of Nazareth all the way to the Basilica of Annunciation. At night visitors will enjoy a spectacular display of fireworks. It’s best to get there early to pick a good spot! On December 25, Catholic churches celebrate mass, the mass at the Basilica of Annunciation starts at early in the morning.
The city of Jerusalem is a melting pot of religions, offering the best of two worlds, ancient and modern Israel. You will find the traditional Santa Claus, holiday-themed tours and a gigantic, decorated Christmas tree. Holiday treats such as the traditional Ghraybeh shortbread pastry can be found throughout the city. The pastry’s ingredients of semolina, pistachio nuts, butter, sugar, and orange blossom come together to make a tempting indulgence.
Those looking to celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth in a traditional way can head to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for Mass every half hour in different languages.
TEL AVIV- JAFFA
Tel Aviv’s port city of Jaffa (also known as Yafo) has introduced a new Winter Festival this year. The Christmas market plays a large role in the festival and allows visitors to shop for Christmas gifts and decorations while sampling wine and traditional holiday food. There is even a chance to experience a white Christmas as cannons shoot out “snow” for visitors to play in. Free Christmas tours are offered as well!
While it may not be reminiscent of the western Christmas so many of us are used to, Israel offers a spiritually enriching experience with memories that will last a lifetime.
Originally posted at America Israel Tours.