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.

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

Celebrating Christmas in Nazareth. Photo by Flash90
Celebrating Christmas in Nazareth. Photo by Flash90

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, arts and crafts (December 13-20).

The official lighting of the Christmas Tree on Paulo VI Street is set for Dec 6.

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

Hundreds of Christians celebrate the lighting of the Christmas tree in the Christian quarter of the Old City Of Jerusalem. Photo by Muath Al Khatib/Flash90.
Hundreds of Christians celebrate the lighting of the Christmas tree in the Christian quarter of the Old City Of Jerusalem. Photo by Muath Al Khatib/Flash90.

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 Christmas Festival (December 9-11; free) featuring Christmas crafts for sale, snow machines, music, a giant Christmas tree and workshops for children. The YMCA will also host a Christmas Carols Concert (December 24 at 8pm).

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.

Catholic nuns from the Sisters of Bethlehem pray during midnight mass on Christmas Eve at the Beit Jamal Monastery near Jerusalem. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
Catholic nuns from the Sisters of Bethlehem pray during midnight mass on Christmas Eve at the Beit Jamal Monastery near Jerusalem. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.

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.

A nun shops for Christmas decorations in a store in the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo by Itay Cohen/Flash90.Jerusalem. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
A nun shops for Christmas decorations in a store in the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo by Itay Cohen/Flash90.Jerusalem. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.

Armenian Christmas will be celebrated January 18 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

A Happy new year sign on a cafe in Jaffa. Photo by Shutterstock.com
A Happy new year sign on a cafe in Jaffa. Photo by Shutterstock.com

Jaffa (Yafo) is hosting a Winter Festival on December 24 at Beit Romano (9 Derech Yafo, Tel-Aviv). This is the place to shop for cool Israeli designs and soak up the hip vibe of the city.

The municipality of Tel Aviv-Yafo is hosting free tours in English of Old Jaffa, Sarona Market area and the White City.

There will be a Viennese Christmas Ball with the music of Mozart, Haydan, Strauss and Offenback at the Armenian church of St Nicholas in Jaffa on December 16 & 30th at 20:30.

For information on where to attend Christmas services in Tel Aviv-Yafo, click here.

Haifa

Christmas in the german Colony of Haifa. Photo by Sapir Bronzberg/Flash90
Christmas in the german Colony of Haifa. Photo by Sapir Bronzberg/Flash90

The city best known for coexistence among its residents hosts its 23rd annual Holiday of Holidays festival. The event takes place on consecutive weekends (December 3-31, 2016) 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.