Israel is the Holy Land where the major events in Jesus’ life took place. Christian holy sites can be found throughout Israel and they attract pilgrims and devout Christians from around the world all year round. However, Christmas Eve is a unique evening in Israel for Christians. Tourists who want to spend the last few days of December in Israel have a wide range of options, and we have chosen to focus on three cities: Nazareth, Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Nazareth is one of the most important cities in the Christian world and is the site of the Basilica of the Annunciation, where, according to Christian tradition, the Angel Gabriel informed Mary that she would give birth to Jesus, the Son of God. Throughout the entire month of December, Nazareth is decorated with Christmas lights and the atmosphere in the city is unique and truly memorable. In addition to the erection of the largest Christmas tree in the Middle East, there are many activities and events that take place in Nazareth during this month – stalls where Christmas items are sold, concerts, performances and the traditional Christmas tour that takes visitors along streets where many of the houses display Christmas lights. The Christmas ware stalls and the Christmas lights impart a magical atmosphere to Nazareth at this time of year. The height of the Christmas festivities in this city can be seen on the afternoon of December 24 when the traditional Christmas parade takes place, followed by a breathtaking fireworks display. On Christmas Eve, the traditional Christmas mass is held in the Basilica of the Annunciation; according to many, the mass in the Basilica of the Annunciation is one of the most unique prayer services held on Christmas Eve.
Jerusalem, where many of the events in Jesus’ life occurred, also attracts Christian tourists and pilgrims from around the world. Throughout the city one can visit Christian holy sites and there are many options to choose from. We recommend a tour through the Christian Quarter of the Old City in the evening when one can particularly enjoy the Christmas lights, the Christmas trees and the special aromas of delicacies sold in the quarter’s shops. The YMCA holds a Christmas market and presents a concert of Christmas carols, which people of all faiths are invited to attend so that they can enjoy the concert’s unique message of peace. On Christmas Eve, the bells of all the churches in Jerusalem are rung and festive prayer services are held throughout Jerusalem. One can attend the traditional Christian mass in any of a dozen churches in the Christian Quarter of the Old City or in other parts of Jerusalem. However, a special experience awaits those who attend services in the Armenian Catholic Church, which is also the Sixth Station along the Via Dolorosa, at the lovely Austrian hospice or in the Church of the Dormition on Mount Zion, which holds prayer services in Latin, German and Hebrew and which features a particularly impressive organ.
Bethelem is where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus was born. It is one of the most popular places in the world to visit at Christmas time. In addition to the giant Christmas tree in the plaza of the Church of the Nativity, there are Christmas lights, Santa Claus dolls and splendid delicacies for the many Christian tourists from all over the world to enjoy. Throughout Bethlehem there are religious ceremonies and along the city’s main axis the traditional parade of the Patriarch and the heads of the church takes place. Manger Square is full of devout Christians throughout the day and night during this period of the year. Thousands of Christians go there to partake of the special Christmas atmosphere and many of them then attend the Christmas mass in the Church of the Nativity, which has become a symbol in the Christian world. In addition to mass in the Church of the Nativity, one can attend mass services in various churches throughout the city, including the Church of St. Catherine, where you will need to order your admission tickets in advance.