How Is Christmas Celebrated in Israel?

Although Christmas is a worldwide tradition, it is celebrated only by a handful of the population. Find out if they follow orthodox Christmas traditions.

By Carmen Slabbert
Edited by Taj Schlebusch

Published September 29, 2021.

Christmas is a special time of the year and the Christian festivities are celebrated worldwide, honoring the birth of Jesus Christ with friends and family. Celebrating Christmas in the Holy Land, where it all started, is very magical.

Do Israelis Celebrate Christmas?

Even though Israel is the land where it all began, only 2,5% of the population are Christians. Thus, Christmas is not celebrated by all the people in Israel. Christmas is a typical working day for most Israelis. The Jewish festival of light, called Hanukkah, is also celebrated around the same time.

If you go to Bethlehem, however, you will find that it is known as the city of three Christmases. This is due to Bethlehem being home to three different Christian groups, namely Catholics (25th of December), Palestinians (7th of January), and Armenians (18th of January).

When Is Christmas in Israel?

Christmas is also celebrated on the 25th of December. In towns like Nazareth and Bethlehem, Christmas is a public holiday and accommodates most tourists during the festive season.

Israeli Christmas Traditions

  • Christmas dinner A traditional Christmas dinner is turkey, spiced with pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and stuffed with rice and almonds.
  • Putting up Christmas trees In the Christian quarter in Jerusalem, a big Christmas tree is erected about 15m high.
  • Putting up Christmas lights The Christmas tree and the streets get decorated with lights.
  • YMCA market The YMCA market is an annual market where the local people sell their products and contribute part of the money towards the YMCA funds.
  • Christmas concert at the YMCA This concert is has caroling, orchestras, etc. Being able to attend one of these is breathtaking and gives one a festive feeling.
  • Midnight Mass in Bethlehem The midnight mass in Bethlehem is a very popular tradition in Israel. When you want to attend the gathering, you need to buy a ticket.
  • Walking the Via Dolorosa Following in the footsteps of Jesus when he was on his way to be crucified is a tradition that has the most meaning to Christians, and to take part in it is meaningful.

In the End

Christmas is a fun and festive time of the year. Everybody has their ways of celebrating it. In Israel, many people do not celebrate Christmas as one would like to believe, but they have interesting traditions.