Journey to Israel in December to experience the Christmas season in the Holy Land, where beauty, adventure, art, and culture date back over thousands of years. Commonly known as the world’s first tourist destination, Israel embodies the joyous holiday spirit as streets are decked out in festive decorations, carolers frequently stroll by singing, and outdoor street markets fill the air with the smell of delicious treats.
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Christmas Eve Parade, Nazareth
Nazareth is the childhood hometown of Jesus and is considered the Galilean cradle of Christianity, which is why you’ll find a big celebration for Christmas here. The local population celebrates it for themselves, and not for tourists, offering the chance to enjoy an authentic, joyful holiday and get a good glimpse of life here. The traditional Christmas Eve Parade takes place along the main streets, drawing more than 30,000 participants on December 24th. It travels to the plaza in front of the Basilica of the Annunciation and is followed by a spectacular firework display. The annual Christmas Market is a great place to pick up traditional Christmas items including tasty treats and homemade crafts.
Jaffa Port Christmas Market, Jaffa, Tel Aviv
Jaffa is a place where Jews, Christians and Muslims have lived peacefully side by side many years. Its winding alleyways are magical throughout the year, but are even more so over the Christmas holidays, with the dazzling trees and lights, along with Hanukah menorahs. Take in holiday music performances and walk around the port to enjoy the sights, and be sure to visit the Jaffa Port Christmas Market, the perfect spot for tasting traditional holiday fare, along with wines from around the world.
The Holiday of Holidays, Haifa
The Holiday of Holidays takes place every weekend throughout December in Haifa where Jews, Christians, and Muslims gather at events like art galleries, museum exhibitions, antique fairs, concerts, children activities, and open-air events, proudly demonstrating a harmonious relationship between monolithic religions of the area. It started back in 1994 and includes a food festival that blends Arab and Jewish flavors to reflect the variety of dishes available in the city. Many ancient dishes are recreated, brought back to life so both locals and visitors can enjoy them. If you’re here on Christmas Eve, take the cable car ride to the 19th-century monastery on the slopes of Mount Carmel, and from there, head visit St. John Church for the Christmas liturgical concert.
Cities throughout Israel will be holding Mass, offering one of the best chances to experience the holiday like a local. Some of the most famous churches hosting mass include the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Immanuel Lutheran Church in Tel Aviv, Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center in Jerusalem and the Church of Nativity and Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem.
The Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem is where the most popular mass with tourists is held, with visitors flocking to the city in hopes of participating in Christmas Eve Mass that’s celebrated exactly over the grotto where Christ was born. A free shuttle bus is available on December 24 to help everyone who would like to join the Christmas Celebrations on the Manger Square. You’ll need a ticket – while they’re free, they’re given out as part of a lottery system through the Christian Information Center in Jerusalem, and there is always a higher number of people seeking to attend than space in the church allows, but the mass is also shown on a giant screen to those outside in Manger Square.
Walk the Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem
There is no holier place than Jerusalem, considered a spiritual center for all three major monotheistic faiths and one of the most fascinating cities you can visit. Of course, it’s particularly memorable at Christmastime. You can even walk along the Via Dolorosa, the very same route that Jesus took between his condemnation and his crucifixion and burial. The current route was set down during the Middle Ages, and it originates with events from the 1st century though their significance for believers crosses the boundaries of time and space.
Festival of Light/Hanukkah, Jerusalem
Also referred to as the Festival of Light, Hanukkah brings Jerusalem to life. Visitors can enjoy a variety of special events and concert tours over eight days in December, as well as join the candle lighting at the Western Wall around sunset, every day of Hanukkah. When you walk the streets, you’ll see thousands of candle lights in the windows. Taking a tour of the Western Wall Tunnels will allow you to participate in the history of the holiday, joining hundreds of those who pray with joy.
Special Tours of Jerusalem and Bethlahem for the Holidays
Christmas weekend includes tours of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods. There are rooftop tours, musical tours and Segway tours as well as a number of special tours specifically for the holiday season. There are even some full-day tours of Jerusalem and Bethlehem that include dinner and the celebration of midnight mass. You can see the Church of the Nativity, the place where Jesus was born in Bethlehem, visit the Garden of Gethsemane where he prayed, the spot where he was crucified on the Hill of Calvary, and the place and where he ascended into heaven on the Mount of Olives. You’ll also be able to walk through the Old City’s Christian Quarter, visiting numerous holy sites.