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June 21, 2010June 21, 2010  1 comments  Uncategorized
After a decade of being banned by Israeli law from Palestinian territories, 100 tour guides from Israel - 50 Jewish and 50 Druze - will return to tour guiding in Bethlehem as part of a pilot program beginning today.

The Israeli government has forbidden its own citizens from entering the Palestinian Authority since the outbreak of the intifada in 2000, but recent overtures by Israel’s Tourism Ministry which contacted the army and Civil Administration resulted in making an exception to allow Israeli tour guides into Bethlehem, a destination city for many Christian tourists.

The decision is expected to ease obstacles encountered by many tourism industry professionals including guides, travel agencies and tour operators. Some 500 Israeli tour guides requested participation in the project, but only 50 were selected by lottery, the Tourism Ministry announced today.

Previously if members of a guide’s group wanted to visit Bethlehem, they would have to go on their own or be met by a Palestinian guide on the other side of the checkpoint. Due to the inconvenience, many opted not to go, damaging Bethlehem’s tourism industry.

Civil Administration Commander Lt.-Col. Eyah Sirhan said that the safety and security of the tour guides was a top priority in approving the program and its regulations.

Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov said he hoped the move would improve Israel’s image as a safe destination for tourists and lauded the hearty response of Israeli tour guides to participate in the program and cooperate with the Palestinian Authority.

The end of the Palestinian uprising combined with cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian tourism ministries have resulted in a significant increase in visitors to Bethlehem, reaching as high as 1.3 million in 2009.

December 19, 2010December 19, 2010  1 comments  Uncategorized

During the Christmas season, there is no shortage of services to attend. Here is a list by Travelujah of just some of the plethora of churches significant to the Christmas story and Christianity in the Holy Land.

Church of the Annunciation
Essentially where Christmas began, this is considered the site where it is believed the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was chosen to carry the Messiah. From there, Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem. Nazareth was central in the life of Jesus. It was his home town, where he was raised as a carpenter before starting his ministry. The church was built in the 1960s, but stands on the foundations of an ancient Byzantine church and a Crusader church from the Middle Ages. A grotto below the church is believed to be the place where Gabriel visited Mary.

Church of the Visitation
Ein Karem, Jerusalem
Following the original Christmas story, after Mary found out about her immaculate conception she went to the Judean village of Ein Karem to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was also pregnant. Now the Church of the Visitation, built in 1679, marks that site.

manger square, church of the nativity, grottoChurch of the Nativity
Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem, the city from where Joseph’s family came, in order to register as part of a nationwide census. Jesus is believed to have been born in the Grotto where the Church of the Nativity now stands. The church was built in 325 AD and is one of the oldest churches in the world. It is the most popular stop on Christmas Eve and day.

Mar Theodosius
Beit Sahour
After Jesus was born, wise men from the east visited Jesus in Bethlehem. Tradition has it that Theodosius was led by God to seek out a cave where the wise men rested after paying homage to Jesus and after having been warned by an angel to return to their country via another road to avoid Herod. St. Theodosius Monastery, founded in 476, stands upon that site.

St. Joseph’s Chapel
The traditional midnight mass is celebrated on Christmas Eve in St. Catherine’s, the Roman Catholic church next door to the Church of the Nativity. This is also the site of several chapels with their own historic and religious significance. The Chapel of St. Joseph is where an angel appeared to Joseph and commanded him to flee to Egypt, Matthew 2:13.

The Milk Grotto
This smaller and more peaceful chapel is located close to the Nativity Church in Manger Square. Legend says that while Mary was feeding Jesus when a few drops of milk spilled to the ground turning the rocks white. This chapel has long been a devotional site for women. The church is believed to be where Joseph, Mary and Jesus took refuge before their escape to Egypt.

Garden Tomb
garden tomb, golgothaJerusalem
The Garden Tomb is not part of the Christmas story, but it is a significant site in the life of Jesus. Not a church per se, the site is a place of reflection and where Protestants believe Jesus crucifixion and burial took place. The site is popular for Easter, but also has a Christmas Day service.

Church of the Redeemer
Jerusalem, Old City
Not central to the original Christmas story, the German church makes up for lost time by celebrating the holiday in style. The Church of the Redeemer was commissioned by Prussian Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm in 1869. Decorated for Christmas, the church also hosts classical concerts, midnight mass on Christmas Eve and a Christmas day service.


By Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah

Nicole Jansezian writes for Travelujah, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Users can learn, plan and share their travel experiences on Travelujah. Travelujah offers customized group and individual tour experiences to ministries, parishes, Bible study groups, universities, organizations, families and others seeking an unforgettable journey to the Holy Land.

December 8, 2010December 8, 2010  5 comments  Uncategorized

Looking for an off-the-beaten, true Christmas experience in the Holy Land? This is a Travelujah tip: The Nativity Trail takes these concepts to a literal level.

Various organized hiking trails populate the Holy Land, some mostly for sport and some rich with biblical and historic significance. The Nativity Trail is one to consider during the holiday season. Just as the Advent calendar follows the holy journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, the Nativity Trail is a walking trail from the city where Jesus was immaculately conceived to his birthplace.

Snaking from the Christian Arab town of Nazareth in Israel into the Palestinian territories, the follows a 160-kilometer route and ranks up there with the Israel Trail - the mountain trail through Israel, and the Jesus Trail, a 65-kilometer walking trail concentrated in the Galilee that connects sites significant in Jesus’ ministry.

And with a temperate climate most of the year, walking is a treat in the Holy Land for an up close and personal view of the countryside and the people.

Some of the Nativity Trail, as carried out by tour operators, involves driving to different sites and crossing checkpoints. The majority of the trail is in the Palestinian West Bank.

nazareth, church of anunciation, nativity trailThe Nativity Trail begins in Nazareth where visitors appropriately begin at the Church of the Annunciation and the house of Mary. From there, other important stops include Mount Tabor and the monastery of the Transfiguration; Zababdeh, a Christian town on the ancient Roman trade route; Nablus, where Jacob’s Well is located; Jericho, where Jesus healed blind Bartimaeus and ministered to the rich tax collector, Zacchaeus; Wadi Qelt where St. George Koziba monastery stands in a canyon; and of course Bethlehem.
The trail highlights many of the treasures in the Palestinian controlled West Bank.

The landscape and population along the trail is diverse. From desert to valleys, stark mountainsides to lush fields and olive groves, hikers get a varied view of the Holy Land firsthand. Along the way, visitors will pass through Christian and Muslim villages and meet priests, farmers, Bedouins and families.

The Nativity Trail was created by the Bethlehem 2000 Project as part of Palestinian millennium celebrations, linking the historic towns of Nazareth and Bethlehem.

Nicole Jansezian writes for Travelujah.com, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan, book  and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.

December 14, 2010December 14, 2010  0 comments  Uncategorized

Just as the shepherds said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about” (Luke 2:15), Travelujah recommends Christians today make a similar pilgrimage.

Christmas in Bethlehem, the place where it all began, is still a major event in this Palestinian city, south of Jerusalem. With a Christmas market, a tree lighting and, of course, Christmas church services, there is much to see and do in the city during the holiday season. And with so many Christian denominations represented in the Holy Land, Christmas celebrations carry on for almost a month, from early December until the Armenian Christmas on Jan. 19.

st. catherine, bethlehem“For Christians everywhere, it is the place where the singular moment in salvation history took place,” said Fr. Marwan Di’des, pastor of St. Catherine's Church of the Nativity.

Indeed, being present in the city where salvation was born contributes a new and fresh perspective of Christmas and brings the Bible to life. Leigh Johnson, a tourist from the US, said being in Bethlehem in December gave her and her tour group a new perspective on the shepherds tending their sheep in the field during the cold, rainy season.

It was the group’s first time in the Holy Land, and since it was December, they especially wanted to see the city of Jesus’ birth.

“It was so interesting going down the road to Manger Square to see the murals of Merry Christmas in Bethlehem with Christmas lights,” she said.

The central Christmas experience is in full array on Christmas Eve as the patriarchs of the various churches are welcomed to Bethlehem by ensembles of youth playing drums to announce their arrivals. Midnight mass is usually followed by a procession to the grotto at the Church of the Nativity, the reading of the Gospel of Luke and Christmas Carols. (For service times, check Travelujah’s listings)

manger square, church of the nativityTO DO:
The festivities begin with a Christmas bazaar on Star Street featuring crafts and games, food and drinks traditional to the holiday. The annual tree lighting will take place this year on Dec. 15 with Mayor Victor Batarseh.

The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation in cooperation with Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the Bethlehem Peace Center will host a Christmas Tree Exhibition from Dec. 17 to 19.

On Dec 22, a Christmas Musical Concert with “Shibat” will take place at Ad-Dar Hall – Dar Annadwa Tickets are 40 shekels. The concert begins at 7 p.m.

manger square, church of the nativity, chapelThe Bethlehem Christmas Festival will feature a 150-voice choir singing the world premiere of “The Gift of Christmas” at Ad-Dar Hall – Dar Annadwa, Bethlehem. The concert is free and will take place on Dec. 29 at 6 p.m.

On Dec. 24, choirs and clergy will make processionals through Manger Square to the Church of the Nativity. In addition, the Feast of the Shepherds is held in Beit Sahour, less than a mile from Bethlehem. A procession begins at the Shepherds’ Field in Beit Sahour and ends in Manger Square,  following the path of the shepherds who walked to Bethlehem to worship Jesus. Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Shepherds on Dec. 25 and Greek Orthodox on Jan. 27.


manger square, church of the nativity, grottoChurch of the Nativity
The austere Church of the Nativity off of Manger Square is an obvious place to visit at any time of the year as it is the focal point of the city. The Roman Catholic, Armenian and Greek Orthodox churches share custody of the church. The central feature of the church is the Grotto of the Nativity, a cavern beneath the church believed to be the site of Christ's birth.

The Milk Grotto
Not nearly as well known as the Church of the Nativity, this smaller, peaceful chapel has long been a devotional site for women. The Milk Grotto is believed to be built on the site where Joseph, Mary
and Jesus took refuge before their escape to Egypt. According to tradition, while Mary was nursing Jesus here, a drop of milk fell to the ground, turning it white.

Shepherds’ Field
The plains just east of Bethlehem, in Beit Sahour, are celebrated as the spot where “shepherds kept watch over their flock” on the night Jesus was born. Chapels built over ruins commemorate the appearance by angels to the shepherds in what is known as Shepherds' Field. The Greek Orthodox church, Kanisat al-Ruwat, is a cave which was used as a church from the 4th century - the only 5th-century church outside Jerusalem to have survived intact. The Catholic chapel is at Khirbat Siyar al-Ghanim. Protestants consider the YMCA of Beit Sahour to be the place.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Luke 2:4-15


By Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah

Nicole Jansezian writes for Travelujah.com, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan, book and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.

December 17, 2010December 17, 2010  1 comments  Uncategorized

Israel is expecting 90,000 tourists this month who will be visiting the Holy Land for the Christmas season -  the only place in the world to experience Christmas in its original setting.

With several religious services, festive concerts and ornate decorations, Israel’s and the Palestinian Authority’s small  Christian communities muster up Christmas cheer during the holiday season for locals and for visiting pilgrims.
“The Christian community, in its various denominations with hundreds of millions of believers, represents one of the central anchors for incoming tourism to Israel,” Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov said. Of 3.18 million tourists to visit the Holy Land this year, 2.4 million were Christian.

Free shuttle transport for pilgrims, provided by the Ministry of Tourism, will be available from Jerusalem to Bethlehem from the Mar Elias Monastery to the Church of the Nativity every hour from Christmas Eve at noon for the next 24 hours.

You will fine plenty to enjoy in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve as there are multiple services and processions, including Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian, Armenian and more. There is an international Christmas Eve mass in Arabic, English and German at the Church of the Nativity. at 5 p.m. and of course, there is the midnight mass.

Saturday, Dec. 18
The Church of the Redeemer in the Old City has a Christmas concert with the Kfar Saba Chamber Orchestra on Saturday, Dec. 18 at 8 p.m. The Program is a “Ceremony of Carols\" including Bach’s Cantata no. 4 and Vivaldi’s Gloria.

Christmas Eve
The Church of the Redeemer has a service at 10:30 p.m. Call for tickets in advance: 02.626.6800

Christmas Day
The Garden Tomb has a Christmas service in English at 10 a.m.
The Church of the Redeemer has a service at 10:30 p.m. Call for tickets in advance. 02.626.6800

The public is invited to see the decorations at the YMCA on King David Street.

Thursday, Dec. 23
Annual reception hosted by the Tourism Ministry and the Mayor of Nazareth with the leaders of the Christian churches ambassadors and other public dignitaries in the Salesian Church including a special Christmas concert conducted by Imad Abu Sinai with guest singer Georgit Nofi at 6 p.m.
Christmas Eve
Traditional youth parade of scouts from the Christian communities, down Paul XI Street, Nazareth’s main street. 3 p.m.

Firework display, sponsored by the Tourism Ministry, to announce the opening of the festive Christmas celebrations 5 p.m.

The Christmas Mass at the Church of the Annunciation, in the presence of Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, the Patriarchal Vicar for Israel. 7:30 p.m.
Christmas Day
Mass in all the Catholic Churches. The first mass in the Church of the Annunciation will take place at 7 a.m. then another at 10 a.m.

By Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah

Nicole Jansezian writes for Travelujah.com, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan, book and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.

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