What better way to celebrate the miracle of Jesus’ birth than to spend Christmas where He was born … in Israel!
In a country where only 2.5% of the population identifies as Christian, Christmas still is a popular holiday across Israel, and is openly celebrated in many cities and towns. And if you need extra incentive, approximately two million Christian tourists make the pilgrimage to Israel to partake in Christmas festivities!
Begin in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, and you will see the entire city awash in Christmas décor. Walk the famous route of the Via Dolorosa in the Old City where pilgrims from around the world carry the cross of Jesus upon their shoulders, connecting this symbolic event with the Christmas holiday. The city’s churches are adorned with decorations and offer celebration services and concerts. A massive, decorated Christmas tree is on display, and the holiday ends with a Christmas Eve Family Carol Service on December 24.
Believed to be the hometown of Jesus, Nazareth is nestled in the hills of the Galilee region and is another popular gathering point for Christmas celebrants. The city has a large Christian population, which is multiplied during the Christmas holiday. You can see decorated trees across town, along with symbols of the biblical Christmas narrative. On Christmas Eve, residents come out to lead a massive colorful procession through the town.
Located in the northern coastal region of Israel, the city of Haifa celebrates Christmas alongside Hanukkah observations. The city is decorated with a giant, sparkling Christmas tree alongside a Hanukkah menorah. They also feature a weeklong festival, known as “The Holiday of Holidays,” where celebrants converge on the city to meet at Christmas markets, galleries, and other events. Take in the brightly-lit Christmas tree lined streets, the open-air markets, live performances of Christian liturgical music, and much more.
Perhaps the most iconic of places in Israel to celebrate Christmas, Bethlehem is the birthplace of Jesus. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience where the entire city comes to life and is resplendent with color, welcoming visitors and pilgrims alike to rejoice during this special time. Enjoy the streets lined with colored lights, tinsel, and Christmas trees, and be sure to spend some time in the Christmas markets and watch the Christmas parades and religious processions.
Bethlehem’s Manger Square is the epicenter of the Christmas celebrations, where several Christian processions take place. There are also processions which pass through Shepherd’s Fields, and also the Church of the Nativity.
Perhaps the best part about celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem is that the holidays last longer than December! Depending on where you go in the city, some churches—typically the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic churches—celebrate the holiday in early January.