Christmas Eve has come and gone and now we've arrived at Christmas Day here in Israel. Largely, you won't see a single memento around town that notifies you that the Christmas holiday is here. Students are at school, employees are at work and there is no holiday break to be had.
However, just minutes away in Bethlehem, you will find quite the opposite scene. It's Christmas at its epitome. Every year, some 90,000 people travel to Bethlehem locally and from around the world for the Christmas holiday and in particular for the Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity. Where can you get a more authentic Christmas experience than right there in Bethlehem?
Unfortunately for holders of Israeli passports, Bethlehem is off limits. It all has to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict. So, looks like I will never get to see Bethlehem in my lifetime. However, the images are worth 1,000 words.
Up north in Nazareth, Israel you will also find a Christmas scene taking place. Nazareth, believed to be the childhood home of Jesus, has more Christians per capita than any other city in Israel. I have been to Nazareth just once before and it was a very enriching cultural experience to see so many important sights in one small city. I can only imagine what it looks like during Christmastime.
I can tell you that during the month of December, the city happenings in Nazareth are geared entirely toward Christmas. Beginning on December 15, 2011 they had the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at Mary's Well Square, right in the center of town.
Following this main event, Nazareth hosted a Christmas Market in town between December 15-18, 2011. This festive market included Christmas carolers, music, food and gifts.
Next, a Christmas Concert hosted jointly by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism and the mayor of Nazareth is put on annually.
Finally, on Christmas Eve you will find a parade taking over the streets of Nazareth with thousands of attendees, followed by fireworks and ending with Midnight Mass in the Basilica of the Annunciation. Today, on Christmas Day, you will find a plethora of different mass services to attend in honor of today's date.
And so now you know, if you ever find yourself in Israel for Christmas time, there is no shortage of authentic Christmas experiences for you to take part in from perhaps the very places where Christmas allegedly once began. One last option is in the heart of Jerusalem's Old City in the Christian Quarter where Christmas is celebrated every year in the Christian Quarter at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The options go on and on. After all, Israel is not only a place for Jewish people, it is also home to a handful of other religions all of which have roots of their religion right here in the small borders of Israel. Wherever you are celebrating, I wish to you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
* The majority of pictures and images from Nazareth are courtesy of Nazareth, The Magical City's facebook page, found here (click on this link) To see more beautiful images of Nazareth, please visit the above website!