The world's largest menorah (ḥanukkiyah), created by the Israel Electric Company, lit up Tel Aviv Port last Hanukkah. Photo by Gideon Markowicz/FLASH90
The world’s largest menorah (ḥanukkiyah), created by the Israel Electric Company, lit up Tel Aviv Port last Hanukkah. Photo by Gideon Markowicz/FLASH90

The Festival of Lights — from nightfall December 16 through December 24 this year – means no school and a myriad of special events for schoolchildren. And don’t worry: there’s plenty in store for adults as well.

ISRAEL21c suggests these Hanukkah and Christmas activities to start off your holiday in the Holy Land on a festive foot.

  1. Light It Up Blue for autism, December 14
Supermodel Bar Refaeli joins the ALUT campaign. Photo by Shlomi Mizrahi
Supermodel Bar Refaeli joins the ALUT campaign. Photo by Shlomi Mizrahi

Two days before the first Hanukkah candle is lit, thousands of Israeli schoolchildren will be out collecting donations for ALUT, Israel’s Society for Autistic Children, and urging people to place two blue candles in their hanukkiyah (Hanukkah menorah) in solidary with autistic citizens, as part of the international Light It Up Blue awareness campaign.

People everywhere are encouraged to join in along with supermodels Bar Refaeli and Esti Ginzburg, tennis star Andy Ram, members of Knesset and other Israeli celebrities. The universal message is that children on the autism spectrum often feel lonely and could use a buddy, especially during holiday times.

  1. Hanukkah at The First Station, Jerusalem

Each night of the holiday something special is planned at this popular leisure-recreation complex. Check the website for details. A sample day’s offerings include a children’s show (“Pancake Story”) at the Train Theater, a food fair, festive candle-lighting, live music and dance parties. On December 18, the complex will host a stuffed-foods cooking competition starting at 7pm.

  1. Hasmonean Village (972-8-976-1617, 972-54-448-0463)
Hanukkah olive pressing at Hasmonean Village.
Hanukkah olive pressing at Hasmonean Village.

This historic reconstruction near Moshav Shilat portrays life in the Land of Israel at the time of the Hanukkah story. It encompasses an oasis with ancient tents and vegetation, a Roman road, a vineyard, an olive grove, a cave, working olive presses, an ancient wine press and residential structures. During Hanukkah, special guided tours (English and Hebrew) and a variety of family workshops are offered, including oil production. Entrance must be booked in advance. Email: kfarhash@012.net.il

  1. Chashmonaim, Modi’in and Hanukkah, December 18 (972-52-422-8601)

Tour guide Ezra Rosenfeld is leading this 9am to 4pm Tanach Tiyulim tour (in English) in search of the birthplace of the Maccabees and the gigantic monuments they built. Along the way, he’ll discuss their battles, analyze the role of Jerusalem in their rebellion and explain why their independent state ultimately crumbled. NIS 200 per person. For information on other Tanach Tiyulim tours during Hanukkah, click here.

  1.  “Light, Shadow and Fire” at Bloomfield Science Museum, Jerusalem, December 19-23 (972-2-654-4888)
Games in Light and Shadow exhibition at Bloomfield. Photo by Sasson Tiram
Games in Light and Shadow exhibition at Bloomfield. Photo by Sasson Tiram

One ticket (free to kids under five; NIS 60 over five; families NIS 220) entitles you to: MakeLight, a new interactive exhibit on light technologies (open through December 27); giant interactive musical light displays; Games in Light and Shadow exhibition; family workshops to make items such as a glowing dreidel and light-up greeting card; and Light and Fire science demonstrations. The museum is open for free on December 18 and 25 from 9pm to 1am for Hamshushalayim.

  1. Scavenger hunts in Jerusalem, December 21-29

Israel ScaVentures offers a range of daytime and candlelight scavenger hunts for ages six and up, in the Old City, Nachlaot neighborhood and Machane Yehuda marketplace. Check the website for details and registration form. Cost: NIS 85 per adult, NIS 65 per child age six to 18.

  1. Hike or bike in Ben Shemen Forest
 Legendary site of the Maccabees’ graves. Photo by Matti Friedman
Legendary site of the Maccabees’ graves. Photo by Matti Friedman

Hiking, walking and cycling trails in Ben Shemen Forest outside Modi’in – the historic city of the Maccabees – lead you to sites related to Hanukkah, such as the Modi’in lookout tower, which symbolizes the Hasmonean revolt and offers breathtaking views over the coastal plain, Hasmonean Tombs and the archaeological ruins at Tel Hadid.

  1. Christmas in Bethlehem (972-2-627-2692)
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal leads Christmas Eve Mass at St. Catherine Church in Bethlehem last year. Photo by Issam Rimawi/FLASH90
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal leads Christmas Eve Mass at St. Catherine Church in Bethlehem last year. Photo by Issam Rimawi/FLASH90

On December 24, organized events include tours of Rachel’s Tomb, Manger Square and Basilica of the Nativity, a procession to the Nativity Grotto, and Midnight Mass at St. Catherine Church (book in advance). Masses and processions will be held every day from December 25 through January 1 at the Manger Grotto and St. Catherine Church. Epiphany events will be held on January 5-6 in all these Bethlehem locations. In addition, the Christmas Festival in Bethlehem offers concerts at 6:30 many evenings through January 17.

  1. Christmas in Nazareth (972-4-656-0001)
Santa Claus comes all the way to Nazareth. Photo by Itay Cohen/FLASH90
Santa Claus comes all the way to Nazareth. Photo by Itay Cohen/FLASH90

The all-day Christmas market is open December 16-20. The annual Nazareth Christmas Parade steps off at 3:30pm December 24 and culminates in a grand fireworks display at 5:30. Midnight Mass is held in the Basilica of the Annunciation at 7pm. On December 25, the Church of the Annunciation sponsors a festive Mass at 10am, and many other churches in the city will be open to visitors for Mass as well.

     10. Christmas in Haifa

The 17th annual month-long Holiday of Holidays festival features many indoor and outdoor cultural events in the ethnically mixed neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas in celebration of Hanukkah and Christmas. Santa’s House will be open starting at 11am on December 20 and 27; Handel’s Messiah will be performed on December 20 at the Greek Orthodox Church. Elsewhere in Haifa, liturgical concerts are offered at churches and the main Ben-Gurion Boulevard is decorated with Christmas trees and lights.