With so many faiths meeting in one tiny country, there’s no shortage of ways to celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas in Israel. Every year, The Holy Land offers multiple ways for visitors to get involved in the local holiday spirit. Though it may not be as splashy as the festivities in most Western countries, spending Hanukkah or Christmas in Israel is special in its own right. Read on to see all the fun and unique things you can do during the holidays in Israel.
Sample the Sufganiyot
There’s no denying that one of the best parts of spending Hanukkah in Israel is the oily treats. For those who love sufganiyot (donuts) more than their savory counterpart, latkes, you’re in luck. Every December, bakeries across the country churn out their best version of this sweet treat. You can easily get yourself into a sugar coma by stopping at all the bakeries to sample the different flavors. The classic sufganiya is a simple fried donut with jelly stuffing coated in powdered sugar. Many people swear by this version, but in the last few years, some bakeries have decided to go over the top and create more intricate donut flavors. So go out, sample a few (or a dozen, we won’t tell), and decide for yourself the winner of this year’s best sufganiya.
Nazareth Christmas Celebration
If you’re spending your Christmas in Israel, Nazareth is one of the best spots to stop. As the birthplace of Jesus Christ, Nazareth is a fantastic place to get into the holiday spirit. There are a few things you can do in Nazareth. First, there is the annual tree lighting ceremony. There is also a Christmas market that pops up, so you can get some warm food and shop for gifts. Closer to the holiday itself, there is a parade that passes through the center of town. It’s always packed with locals and visitors, so be sure to go early and grab a spot! Lastly, all the historic churches in Nazareth will hold mass, so pick one or a few to visit and have a memorable mass experience in The Holy Land.
Hanukkah Candle Lighting Ceremony
You’ll be able to find a candle lighting ceremony in most major cities across the country. However, we do recommend checking out Jerusalem’s candle lighting ceremony if you have the chance. Many important figures including politicians and rabbis attend this yearly event held at the Western Wall. If you missed the first night, don’t worry, this ceremony takes place every night of the eight-day holidays. There is also a concurrent ceremony nearby in the Old City at Mamilla Mall, which is often more lively than the one at the Western Wall.
Tree-lighting Ceremony in Jaffa
Though Tel Aviv doesn’t have as much of a Christmas vibe to it as some other cities in Israel, it’s still possible to find some celebrations. Most of the events will take place in Jaffa’s Old City. There’s a winter market with some warm treats, a fair, and tons of beautiful sparkling lights to walk around and enjoy. The week before Christmas there is a tree-lighting ceremony, where many locals and visitors go to enjoy some holiday cheer in Israel’s most beachy city.
Midnight Mass in Bethlehem
Christmas in Israel just isn’t complete without a Christmas Eve visit to Bethlehem. Bethlehem is known for it’s a spiritual and sizable celebration, which often attracts large crowds year after year. Go for a wander and see all the churches with different Christmas events, admire the Christmas lights and decoration, and visit the classic nativity scenes on the streets of the city. Of course, the most popular thing to do is attending the midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Tons of people gather at Manger Square in front of the Church of Nativity and celebrate midnight mass together. It’s truly a special sight that should not be missed!
Participate in the Torch Relay
The annual Torch Relay is the beginning of the Hanukkah festivities in Israel. In Modi’in, a city near Jerusalem, residents and visitors light the streets and pass a torch from hand to hand. The line of people is so long that it reaches all the way to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The torch is then used to light the giant Hanukkiah by the Western Wall.
Haifa’s Holiday of Holidays
It’s definitely possible to celebrate Christmas in Israel if you find yourself in the north of the country. If you’re in Haifa for Christmas, there are a few interesting things you can do, including a tree-lighting ceremony, holiday markets, and a Christmas mass. However, the thing that’s most unique to the city is the annual Holiday of Holidays event. Since Haifa is home to the three major religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, the Holiday of Holidays event celebrates all holidays happening at this time of the year. Therefore, you can get a taste of Hannukah, Eid-al-Adha, and Christmas in Israel all at once. It’s also a great opportunity to learn more about new cultures and traditions.
Clearly, there are plenty of things to do for Hanukkah and Christmas in Israel, the only problem now is choosing where to celebrate! If you’re in The Holy Land for the holidays, don’t be shy – contact our travel experts! We can organize a special holiday tour for you so that you can have an unforgettable Hanukkah or Christmas in Israel.