Christmas markets and concerts in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Haifa, Ramla and Tel Aviv-Yafo embrace the true holiday spirit of tolerance and inclusion and attract people of all religions to celebrate together.

Christmas in Israel means walking through the small streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, taking part in a Christmas parade, attending a Christmas Mass or church service, playing in the snow at Jaffa’s Winter Festival, and sampling traditional foodstuffs at one of the holiday markets.

Of course, many tourists will also want to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The Ministry of Tourism offers free shuttle transportation between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Check the schedule, here.

Catholic clergymen outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Photo by FLASH90
Catholic clergymen outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Photo by FLASH90

Just don’t forget to make time to visit the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth or the Franciscan parish church of St. Joseph in Ramla or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, as well.

ISRAEL21c brings the holiday highlights from five Israeli cities:

Nazareth

Nazareth, the 2,000-year-old Galilee city that is home to Israel’s largest Christian Arab community, knows how to throw a Christmas party.

The municipality of Nazareth is now holding its annual festive Christmas Market  street fair with traditional foods and arts and crafts (December 13-20). A combined Hanukkah-Christmas concert with the Galilee Orchestra, the Upper Galilee Choir and singer Keren Hadar will take place on December 19 at the Industrial Park in Nazareth at 8pm.

Christmas in the Galilee town of Nazareth. Photo by Itay CohenFLASH90
Christmas in the Galilee town of Nazareth. Photo by Itay Cohen/FLASH90

Keep December 24 free on your calendar for the traditional parade through the main street of Nazareth. The 30,000-strong parade, which begins at 3:30pm, makes its way to the plaza in front of the Basilica of the Annunciation. At 5:30pm, the annual fireworks display sponsored by the Tourism Ministry will light up the sky. Christmas Mass begins at 7pm in the Basilica of the Annunciation.

The city’s other Catholic churches host services throughout the day on December 25. For times, click here.

Jerusalem

Christmas festivities in the capital city of Israel include Midnight Mass, carol concerts, market shopping and holiday-themed tours.

The Jerusalem International YMCA  is hosting a variety of events this year including a new Christmas Festival (December 18-20; free) featuring Christmas crafts for sale, snow machines, music, a giant Christmas tree and workshops for children. The YMCA will also host an open-air Bells Concert (December 18 at 1pm) and a Christmas Carols Concert (December 24 at 8pm).

Santa walks the walls of Jerusalem's Old City last December. Photo by Yonatan SindelFLASH90
Santa walks the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City last December. Photo by Yonatan SindelFLASH90

If you can’t find what you’re looking for at the YMCA Christmas market, head over to the Old City’s Christian Quarter market for olivewood souvenirs or to the more upscale Mamilla Avenue mall. The year-round market stalls add tinsel and Santa paraphernalia for the holiday month.

While not as elaborately shiny as other cities around the world, Jerusalem’s many churches and monasteries in the Old City and Ein Karem neighborhood get in the holiday spirit and deck out their entrances with boughs of holly. The main streets leading to the city of Bethlehem from Jerusalem are also adorned with decorations and green, red and white lights.

Visitors are invited to take part in Midnight Mass and other prayer services at the city’s churches. For times, click here.

Christians march during an Armenian Christmas procession through the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo by Maxim DinshteinFLASH90
Christians march during an Armenian Christmas procession through the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo by Maxim DinshteinFLASH90

Armenian Christmas will be celebrated January 18-19 in the Old City with a traditional parade and church services. For information on where to attend Armenian Christmas services, click here.

Tel Aviv-Yafo

Jaffa (Yafo) is hosting its first Winter Festival replete with a Christmas Market at the Jaffa Port. From December 15 through January 8, the public is invited to taste traditional holiday fare and wines from around the world, shop for Christmas decorations, trees and gifts, take selfies at the giant fir tree, and play in the “snow” shot out by canons.

The municipality of Tel Aviv-Yafo is hosting free tours  in English of Old Jaffa.

Jaffa is colorful any time of year. Photo by Guy Yechiely
Jaffa is colorful any time of year. Photo by Guy Yechiely

There are also digital self-guided tours. The city has posted QR codes on lampposts throughout Jaffa to help tourists navigate through historical sites on their own with GPS systems, visual aids and audio explanations. Local guides are offering Christmas tours with a focus on Christian Jaffa.
For information on where to attend Christmas services in Tel Aviv-Yafo, click here.

Haifa

The city best known for coexistence among its residents hosts its 22nd annual Holiday of Holidays festival. The event takes place on consecutive weekends (December 8-24, 2015) in the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood and the German Colony district.

Traditional foodstuffs, an antique fair, crafts fair and liturgical music concerts are all part of this holiday celebration.

For information on where to attend Christmas church services in Haifa, click here.

Ramla

The town of Ramla (Ramle), not to be mistaken with Ramallah in the Palestinian Authority area, is another of Israel’s centers of multiculturalism. Ramla’s population is a mix of Jews, Christians and Muslims and is home to many churches, mosques and synagogues.

The town’s souk (outdoor market) is one of the country’s largest, and during the month of December you can find all sorts of Christmas items for sale as well.

Visitors to Ramla can take a look back at Christian history in the Holy Land. There has been a Christian presence in this town at least since the 12th century – Ramla is considered the traditional location of Rama, the hometown of Joseph of Aramathea.

The Franciscan parish church of St. Joseph is a landmark in this town, and said to have been a way station for Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799. The municipality of Ramla runs a tour of all the town’s churches. For more information, click here.

The town also hosts an annual Christmas parade. For more information, contact the municipality.