As with other Christian communities in other countries around the world, Israeli Christians celebrate their own religious holidays. But because Israel is a predominantly Jewish country, Christian holidays are not considered national holidays, despite the fact that it is also the birthplace of Jesus Christ.
If you want to best experience and enjoy Christian holidays, you should go to cities with the largest Christian communities – namely Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. Israel is home to a number of several Christian denominations: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and other smaller denominations. Because of the many different denominations, they may celebrate some of the major Christian holidays on a different date or with additional days that are unique to their faith.
If you are a Christmas person, Israel is the best place to go. Why? It’s because Christmas Day is celebrated in Israel – not once, not twice, but three times!
Most Christian denominations celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on the 25th of December as they follow the Gregorian calendar, which is observed by most countries around the world.
Orthodox Christians, on the other hand, observe Christmas Day on or near January 7, as they follow the Julian calendar that pre-dated the Gregorian calendar. On Christmas Day, Orthodox Christians hold a procession from Jerusalem’s Old City to the Monastery of Mar Elias and on to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where midnight services are conducted.
Armenian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 18 to 19 as they follow the eastern calendar to determine the date of their holidays.
Roman Catholics and Protestants observe this day by traveling from the Mount of Olives down into the Old City as they sing and carry palm fronds. Orthodox Christians, on the other hand, celebrate Palm Sunday with a procession through the Holy Sepulchre, holding palm fronds.
Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ by following the Via Dolorosa through the Old City of Jerusalem. Other ceremonies are held at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.
Orthodox Christians observe this day with the Patriarch conducting the Ceremony of the Holy Fire (or Holy Light), where he lights a candle in the tomb of Jesus Christ. Soon, the church is filled with the faithful holding candles.
Roman Catholic and Armenian Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead by attending Mass in churches across the country, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Protestants, on the other hand, observe this day by attending the sunrise service at the Garden Tomb.
Roman Catholic Chrisitans observe this day at the Church of the Ascension in Jerusalem, holding a midnight Mass that continues until morning. It is then followed by a procession to Viri Galilei and back.
Pentecost is celebrated on the 50th day after Easter Sunday as the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ while they were in Jerusalem, as described in the Acts of the Apostles.
Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Feast of the Holy Cross)
Roman Catholics celebrate this feast on September 14 with Mass at Cavalry in the Holy Sepulchre.
Orthodox Christians, on the other hand, celebrate it on the September 26 to 27 with an evening procession that starts from the Chapel of St. Helena to the Holy Sepulchre.
Armenian Orthodox Christians observe this feast on September 28 with morning Divine Liturgy in St. James Cathedral in Jerusalem.
In addition to the holidays mentioned above, Israeli Catholics celebrate several other feast days:
- The Eve of Epiphany
- The Feast of the Annunciation
- The Visitation of the Virgin Mary
- Nativity of St. John the Baptist
- Assumption Day
- Nativity of Mary
- Immaculate Conception
Israeli Orthodox Christians celebrate several other feast days:
- The Feast of St. Basil
- The Feast of St. Simeon
- Dormition of the Theotokos
- Nativity of Mary
Armenian Orthodox Christians in Israel celebrate the following additional holidays:
- The Feast of St. James the Minor
- The Feast of the Holy Cross of Varak
The Russian Orthodox Church in Israel commemorates the finding of St. John the Baptist’s head at the monastery on the Mount of Olives with morning services.
The Ethiopian Orthodox community celebrates Timkat – the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River – at the Ethiopian Church in Jerusalem’s Old City.