1. Go Shopping at a Christmas Market
Christmas markets are already set up and operating in various cities around the Holy Land. You can’t beat the main destination – Bethlehem – for a taste of the holiday spirit. The festivities began in November with a Christmas bazaar on Star Street featuring crafts and games, food and drinks traditional to the holiday, Christmas decorations, trees, lights and much more.
At the Bethlehem Peace Center in Manger Square, many tables and kiosks are selling the wares of local craftsmen, plus even from overseas like Italy and Norway.
In Jerusalem, the Latin patriarch is operating a smaller Christmas market from now until Christmas Eve. Located on the upper part of the Via Dolorosa, close to New Gate, the shop is selling Christmas decorations, crafts and Christmas candies and chocolates. The proceeds benefit the Catholic scouts club.
You can also enjoy the Christmas lights illuminating Bethlehem’s Old City as the city is decked out for the holidays.
2. Take a Walk on the Nativity Trail
For an adventurous, off-the-beaten-path Christmas experience, try hiking portions of the 160-kilometer route Nativity Trail, the possible trek made by Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. The trail snakes from the Christian Arab town of Nazareth, where Jesus was divinely conceived, to where it ends in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.
Some of the Nativity Trail, as carried out by tour operators, requires driving to different sites and crossing checkpoints. The Nativity Trail appropriately begins at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. From there, other notable stops include Mount Tabor and the monastery of the Transfiguration; Zababdeh, a Christian town on the ancient Roman trade route; Nablus, where Jacob’s Well is located; Jericho, where Jesus healed blind Bartimaeus and ministered to the rich tax collector, Zacchaeus; Wadi Qelt where St. George Koziba monastery stands in a canyon; and Bethlehem, of course.
3. Enjoy the Christmas Tree Lighting and Concerts in Bethlehem
The annual Christmas tree lighting in front of the Basilica of the Nativity, on the Manger Square with Bethlehem Mayor is always exciting. This will be followed by caroling and fireworks. The Christmas tree of Beit Sahour next to the Catholic Church in Shepherd’s field is also worthwhile seeing.Bethlehem often hosts many Christmas concerts at Ad-Dar Hall – Dar Annadws, Also, the Evangelical-Lutheran Christmas Church often hosts a series of short Christmas concerts
The feast of St. Nicholas (Santa Claus) is celebrated annually (Dec 19) in Beit Jalla, a small city next to Bethlehem, where St. Nicholas lived at some point. The holiday is going to be accompanied by a parade of local scouts.
While in Bethlehem, don’t miss visiting the Church of the Nativity off of Manger Square, which is the focal point of the city during this season; the Milk Grotto, a smaller, peaceful chapel where Mary is believed to have nursed the infant Jesus; and Shepherds’ Field, just east of Bethlehem in Beit Sahour, celebrated as the spot where “shepherds kept watch over their flock” on the night Jesus was born.
4. Visit the Nativity Museum in Bethlehem
Just off historic Star Street, the BethlehemNativity Museum is a unique museum featuring nativity scenes from around the world. Each is handcrafted and reflects the local culture and beliefs
5. Enjoy the Lights and Sounds of Christmas in Jerusalem
Despite Israel’s predominant religion being Judaism,followed by Islam, and while Christians comprise a mere minority of the population, Jerusalem will be dressed up for yuletide cheer nevertheless.
The David Citadel Museum is hosting a season-appropriate tour of Old City churches in addition to a liturgical concert. On Dec. 23, “Hallelujah,” a liturgical concert by the Barrocade Ensemble and soloist Revital Raviv will be combined with a Christmas tour of the Old City. The concert can be combined with a tour of the churches of Jerusalem’s Old City. The concert will be staged twice: the concert at 11 a.m. followed by the tour at 12:30 pm or the tour at 10:30 am followed by the concert at 1 p.m. Tickets can be booked in advance by calling *2884 from a phone in Israel. The cost for both the concert and tour is 90 shekels and for the concert only 65.
6. View the Entrance of Latin Patriarch into Bethlehem
On Dec. 24 at 1 p.m. the ceremonial welcoming of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem to Bethlehem will take place. The entry is marked by colorful parades of scouts from the various churches marching through Star Street and Manger Square to the Nativity Grotto located inside the Church of the Nativity.
Of course, stick around in town for the annual Midnight Mass in the Basilica of the Nativity. Local Christians and pilgrims from around the world gather in the church for mass and prayers. Due to the overwhelming popularity of the event, only visitors who’ve received a special entrance ticket are allowed to enter the Midnight Mass at the Church. Contact the Christian Information Center for tickets.
7. Watch the Christmas Parade and other Festivities in Nazareth
Although most of the Christmas action is centered in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the Arab Christian city of Nazareth always hosts a Christmas market and a line up of Christmas celebrations as well as mass on Christmas eve and a festive mass on Christmas day.
The traditional parade includes thousands of Christian youth and the leaders of the Christian communities, through the main street of Nazareth.
8. Enjoy Holy Mass at the Holy church in Abu Gosh
Though a bit off the path, one of the most special mass celebrations occurs at the Abu Gosh Crusader church with its 12th century frescoes. Here the midnight Mass is sung in Gregorian chant in French and Latin. The architecture, acoustics and singing combine for a uniquely spiritual experience. Reservations are recommended and you should arrive at least half an hour early to beat the crowds. Abu Ghosh is 15 kilometers west of Jerusalem on Highway 1.
9. Celebrate Christmas with the Armenians of Jerusalem
The Armenians in Jerusalem are the only Christian community in the world to abide by the late Christmas date, 13 days after the Gregorian calendar of the traditional Orthodox Christmas date.
For Christmas, the Armenian Patriarch, priests and a marching band will make a motorcade procession from the Old City of Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The processional then continues on foot at Bethlehem’s Manger Square into the Church of the Nativity. A Christmas mass will also take place at Saint James in Jerusalem, a unique service as the church has no electricity and is lit solely by the colorful oil lamps hanging in the square stone basilica. Services begin at 10 p.m. and continue until 6 a.m. in Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
Photo: All About Jerusalem.com
10. Be a Part of the Epiphany at Qasr Al-Yahud
The feast of Epiphany (from the Greek for “appearance”) symbolizes the visit of the Wise Men to Bethlehem when Jesus was born and Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. The Epiphany caps off the Orthodox Christmas season. On this day, many Christians come from around the Holy Land and world to get baptized.
The Epiphany is celebrated at Qasr Al Yahud, the traditional baptism spot on the Jordan River. This fascinating and colorful ceremony attracts thousands of Orthodox pilgrims from around the world.
Photo: All About Jerusalem.com
The joyous occasion can seem a bit raucous with dozens of young people playing pipes, beating drums and singing. The main procession is led by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and monks. At the height of the ceremony, the Greek patriarch releases white doves into the air while church bells ring.
By Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah