1. Visit the Holy Sites
Tour the Nativity Grotto and Basilica of the Nativity – Originally built in 327 AD by Constantine and his mother, the Church of the Nativity sits over the cave that is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth. The Church holds significant religious meaning to both Christians and Muslims and is a World Heritage Site. Walk along Star Street (begins at Star Square), which is the path Mary and Joseph took when coming to the Nativity Grotto. All Christmas parades walk through Star Street towards the Basilica in commemoration.
Shepherd’s Field – Leading from the East of Bethlehem to Beit Sahour, Shepherd’s Field is the location where the shepherd’s saw the Star of the Nativity. This is also thought to be the area where Ruth and Naomi collected wheat behind harvesters on their way to Bethlehem from Moab (Ruth 2:1-6).
Stroll around Bethlehem’s Old City – Free tours are offered daily that allow visitors to immerse themselves in the culture and heritage of the city. The Old City of Bethlehem is located in the center of the city and is made up of seven quarters (6 Christian and 1 Muslim), laid out around Manger Square in a mosaic style.
2. Participate in a Candle Procession
At 2 pm on the 25th of each December, walk from St. Catherine’s Church in Bethlehem to Shepherd’s Field in Beit Sahour as part of a religious pilgrimage. Later in the evening, take part in the annual Shepherd’s Nights Festival’s candle procession from Shepherd’s Fields to Souk el-Shab, located in the center of Bethlehem.
3. Experience 3 Christmas Eves
Christmas is celebrated three times a year in Bethlehem! Christians of various denominations reside in the ancient city and follow different calendars. Catholics and Lutherans celebrate Christmas day on the 25th of December, Orthodox and Oriental Christians on the 7th of January, and Armenian Christians on the 19th of January. On each Christmas Eve, solemn parades throughout the city mark the approaching holiday. Mass at the Church of the Nativity take place each Christmas Eve.
4. Enjoy the Feasts!
Every year, on the 18th and 19th of December, the locals in Beit Jala, located 2 km west of Bethlehem, celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas. Church services in the morning mark the beginning of the feast and is followed by the whole town parading through the town around noon. The day is followed by concerts and various activities lasting through the evening.
On the afternoon of December 17th until the morning of December 18th, the Feast of St. Saba takes place. An all night service, led by the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, occurs while a mass for female pilgrims takes place in an adjoining church tower. To mark the end of the feast, monks share with pilgrims homemade bread and sweet wine.
5. Send a Christmas Greeting to Loved Ones
Want to send Christmas wishes to family and friends? For about 9 NIS ($3.00) send loved ones specially made holiday postcards, sharing your experiences from the Holy Land. This unique gift will remind your family and friends you were thinking of them during this special time of year.
6. Attend Various Holiday Concerts and Parties
Leading up to Christmas, Bethlehem invites locals and tourists to take part in concerts and festivals marking the start of the holiday season. Sample local fare and mingle with people from all around the world who arrive to Bethlehem each year in honor of Christmas.