Same, same but different. This is definitely not the description that is applicable to Christmas travel in the Holy Land. From the backpacker hostels of Jerusalem to the luxury apartments Tel Aviv, Christmas in Israel is nothing like Christmas in countries with a predominantly Christian population. In fact, the first time I visited Israel during Christmas, I didn’t remember it was Christmas till approximately 4 p.m. on Christmas Day as there was no visible signs of Christmas. Then again, having been in the ultra orthodox Jewish area of Bnei Brak may have had something to do with that.
As a predominantly Jewish country, Christmas is not given the same prominence as Jewish festivals, and in particular the eight day festival of Hanukah which is often celebrated at the same time as Christmas depending on how the lunar calendar which determines the Jewish festivals, coincides with the Gregorian calendar.
As a pluralistic democracy, Israel promotes freedom of religion and there is no problem in openly celebrating Christmas, however the predominantly Jewish followed by Muslim population simply do not celebrate the Christian festival.
The commercialization of Christmas that is so evident in other countries is not apparent in Israel. Those who seek out the true meaning of the festival and wish to celebrate it in a manner perhaps more fitting to the true character of the festival will be well rewarded. While you are traveling in the Holy Land, don’t miss out on all the spiritual places to visit, and walking in Jesus’s footprints:
There are numerous Christians who do celebrate Christmas though and celebrating it in Israel, the country in which Jesus was born does hold a special significance. In particular, the ability to attend a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem which has been listed as a World Heritage Site and is one of Christianity’s most revered places is an unforgettable experience for anyone of the Christian faith. In the city of Bethlehem at this time of year there is definitely more of a feeling of Christmas.
Cana is located in Galilee and according to the 4th Gospel is the site where Jesus preformed his first public miracle, turning water into wine.
In Jerusalem there are several holy places to see. The Church of St. Anne and Pools of Bethesda is a 12th-century Crusader church, a beautiful site if Romanesque architecture. This site is known as the birthplace Hannah (aka Anne), the mother of Mary. In the old city of Jerusalem you can visit the famous Western Wall located on the western side of Temple Mount, a site with spiritual meaning for Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Also in the old city, in the Jewish Quarter, you can see all the menorahs and walk straight to the Christian Quarter and see all the Christmas lights. This is quite an experience, and a truly amazing sight for the eyes.
One thing I really recommend is to take a walk down the Via Dolorosa which is the route Jesus took between his condemnation, crucifixion and burial. In the center of Jerusalem you can also find the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which holds a midnight Mass.
If you are dreaming of a White Christmas in the Holy Land, don’t hold your breath. Although there is occasional snow in Jerusalem, and at Mount Hermon; Israel is renowned for its temperate winters. Different, different, different. That is how to best describe Christmas travel to the Holy Land. But when I use the word “different,” it really is a once in a lifetime, good sort of different. Check it out for yourself and see want I mean.
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