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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 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.

January 13, 2011January 13, 2011  0 comments  Uncategorized

For many Christians in the Holy Land and around the world, the holiday season is not yet over as the New Year is rung in tonight for adherents of the Julian calendar.

On Jan. 13, Armenians will ring in the New Year with celebrations this evening and a mass tomorrow morning in Jerusalem’s Old City. The Armenians in Jerusalem will also celebrate Christmas Eve on Jan. 18, the only community in the world to abide by the late Christmas date, 13 days after the Gregorian calendar of the traditional Orthodox Christmas date of Jan. 6.

That makes Jerusalem the Christmas capital of the world. Despite a small indigenous Christian community living in the Holy Land, the winter holiday is celebrated three times in Jerusalem - Dec. 25 (catholics and Protestants), Jan. 6 (Orthodox) and Jan. 19 (Armenian Orthodox only in Jerusalem) - than in any other place.

But tonight all Orthodox Christians observe New Year’s Eve.

“This is the new year for all  the oriental orthodox who observe the Julian calendar,” Armenian Archbishop Aris Shirvanian told Travelujah, the only Christian social network focused on learning about and traveling to the Holy Land. “This is Dec. 31 on the Julian calendar.”

Christians celebrate with a feast on New Year’s Eve and mass on New Year’s morning.

“At midnight there is a very short ceremony in the Armenian convent (St. James) and the church bells will ring and a congratulatory message will be delivered marking the New Year,” Shirvanian said.

Just as Jan. 13 corresponds to Dec. 31, the Armenians use the same calendar to celebrate Christmas: Jan. 6 on the Julian calendar corresponds to Jan. 19 on the Gregorian calendar.

“On Jan. 18 we go to Bethlehem for an official procession,” Shirvanian explained. “We have a series of services until the morning of the 19th. We have a midnight service in the grotto (at the Church of the Nativity) then the Divine Liturgy followed by a blessing of water symbolic of the baptism of our Lord.”

Services begin at 10 p.m. and continue until 6 a.m. in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Families celebrate with a tradition dinner of pilaf and fish. In Bethlehem, the clergy will host the Palestinian president and prime minister.

The orthodox churches of Georgia, Jerusalem, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Ukraine still use the Julian Calendar.

Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity in 301 AD. Armenians have claimed an enduring presence in Jerusalem dating back to 95 BC and a community on Mount Zion since the fourth century. To this day, there is an Armenian Quarter in the Old City with fewer than 2,000 residents.

Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah

Nicole Jansezian writes for www.travelujah.com, the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Users can learn, plan and share their travel experiences on Travelujah.

Tags: christmas holy land 

December 8, 2011December 8, 2011  1 comments  Uncategorized

A total of 90,000 tourists are expected to arrive in Israel over the Christmas holiday, a third of which are pilgrims for the Christian holiday, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

Some 2.1 million Christian tourists will have visited Israel by the end of the year.

“The Christian community along its many denominations and hundreds of million of believers, is a central anchor to Israel’s incoming tourism industry,” said Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov. “The Ministry of Tourism is working year round with communities in Israel and abroad to promote cooperation with leaders and believers from around the world, who act as a bridge toward peace and promoting pilgrimages in the Holy Land.”

Israel's tourism ministry, police, municipalities and border crossing officials are working with Christian communities in order to create a welcoming entry and exit to and from Israel. Misezhnikov will host leaders of the Christian communities in Israel and officials from the pilgrim tourism industry in a holiday reception on Monday.

The Ministry of Tourism will also provide free transportation for pilgrims traveling between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Beginning Saturday, Dec. 24 at 12:00 through Sunday, Dec. 25 at 12:00, busses will leave from Mar Elias Monastery to the Church of the Nativity and return on a need basis.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, during the first half of this year, 1.6 million tourists visited Israel, 60 percent of whom were Christian.


In order to make border crossings as easy as possible, the Ministry of Tourism is currently preparing the names of the tourists and pilgrims wishing to do so. Contact the Ministry of Tourism's open hotline for tourists at 050.621.4070 or 050.621.4127.


By Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah

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

Tags: christmas holy land 

December 14, 2011December 14, 2011  2 comments  Uncategorized

1. Go Shopping at a Christmas Market


Christmas markets are already set up and operating in various cities around the Holy Land. You can't beat the main destination – Bethlehem – for a taste of the holiday spirit. The festivities began in November with a Christmas bazaar on Star Street featuring crafts and games, food and drinks traditional to the holiday, Christmas decorations, trees, lights and much more.

At the Bethlehem Peace Center in Manger Square, many tables and kiosks are selling the wares of local craftsmen, plus even from overseas like Italy and Norway.

In Jerusalem, the Latin patriarch is operating a smaller Christmas market from now until Christmas Eve. Located on the upper part of the Via Dolorosa, close to New Gate, the shop is selling Christmas decorations, crafts and Christmas candies and chocolates. The proceeds benefit the Catholic scouts club.

You can also enjoy the Christmas lights illuminating Bethlehem's Old City as the city is decked out for the holidays.

2. Take a Walk on the Nativity Trail

For an adventurous, off-the-beaten-path Christmas experience, try hiking portions of the 160-kilometer route Nativity Trail, the possible trek made by Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. The trail snakes from the Christian Arab town of Nazareth, where Jesus was divinely conceived, to where it ends in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.

Some of the Nativity Trail, as carried out by tour operators, requires driving to different sites and crossing checkpoints. The Nativity Trail appropriately begins at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. From there, other notable 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 Bethlehem, of course.



3. Enjoy the Christmas Tree Lighting and Concerts in Bethlehem


grotto, church of the nativity, bethlehem, christmasThe annual Christmas tree lighting will take place on Dec. 15, the first day of the Novena of Christmas, in front of the Basilica of the Nativity, on the Manger Square with Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh. This will be followed by caroling and fireworks. The Christmas tree of Beit Sahour will be lit on Dec. 17 next to the Catholic Church in Shepherd's field.

The tree lightings will be followed by a Christmas Tree Exhibition from Dec. 17 to 19 at the Bethlehem Peace Center. Several Christmas concerts are scheduled as well: On Dec 22, a Christmas Musical Concert with “Shibat” will take place at Ad-Dar Hall – Dar Annadwa at 7 p.m. On Christmas Eve, the Evangelical-Lutheran Christmas Church will host a series of short Christmas concerts each hour, beginning from 7 p.m. On Dec. 29, the Bethlehem Christmas Festival will feature a 150-voice choir singing the world premiere of “The Gift of Christmas” at Ad-Dar Hall – Dar Annadwa at 6 p.m.

Photo: Travelujah


On Dec. 19, the feast of St. Nicholas (Santa Claus) will be celebrated in Beit Jalla, a small city next to Bethlehem, where St. Nicholas lived at some point. The holiday is going to be accompanied by a parade of local scouts.

While in Bethlehem, don't miss visiting the Church of the Nativity off of Manger Square, which is the focal point of the city during this season; the Milk Grotto, a smaller, peaceful chapel where Mary is believed to have nursed the infant Jesus; and Shepherds’ Field, just east of Bethlehem in Beit Sahour, celebrated as the spot where “shepherds kept watch over their flock” on the night Jesus was born.

4. Visit Nativity Scenes from Italy in the Holy Land


nativity scene, jerusalem bethlehemFrom Dec. 18, life-size nativity scenes, handcrafted in Italy, will be set up in Bethlehem and Jerusalem for the first time. In Bethlehem, the scene will be built in the cloister of St. Catherine’s Basilic while in Jerusalem, there will be two exhibitions, in the Latin Patriarchate and in the Custody of the Holy Land.

The art of making these life-size nativity scenes is a centuries old tradition, which can be traced to the early 1700s in the Trentino region of Italy. The tradition has been handed down through the generations and has become a family and town ritual. The figures of the Holy Family and the shepherds are carved out of wood.

The famed nativity scenes have appeared in St. Peter’s Square, Krakow, L’Aquila, Assisi and Istanbul in addition to, of course, the scenes in the Trentino valleys. During the Christmas season, the town of Tesero, Italy is transformed into a giant nativity scene. This is the first time they will be in the Holy Land.


5. Enjoy the Lights and Sounds of Christmas in Jerusalem


Despite Israel's predominant religion being Judaism,followed by Islam, and while Christians comprise a mere minority of the population, Jerusalem will be dressed up for yuletide cheer nevertheless.


christmas tree, ymcaThe David Citadel Museum is hosting a season-appropriate tour of Old City churches in addition to a liturgical concert. On Dec. 23, “Hallelujah,” a liturgical concert by the Barrocade Ensemble and soloist Revital Raviv will be combined with a Christmas tour of the Old City. The concert can be combined with a tour of the churches of Jerusalem's Old City. The concert will be staged twice: the concert at 11 a.m. followed by the tour at 12:30 pm or the tour at 10:30 am followed by the concert at 1 p.m. Tickets can be booked in advance by calling *2884 from a phone in Israel. The cost for both the concert and tour is 90 shekels and for the concert only 65.


Photo: All About Jerusalem.com

Also in Jerusalem, the YMCA on King David Street will be decked out for Christmas. A large tree will be decorated and the season will be capped off by a Christmas Eve Family Carol Service on Dec. 24.


And finally, in Jerusalem on Dec. 24, don't miss the festive Christmas Carols at Church at 7 p.m. followed by refreshments and the a service, communion and more carols at 10:30 p.m.


6. View the Entrance of Latin Patriarch into Bethlehem

On Dec. 24 at 1 p.m. the ceremonial welcoming of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem to Bethlehem will take place. The entry is marked by colorful parades of scouts from the various churches marching through Star Street and Manger Square to the Nativity Grotto located inside the Church of the Nativity.

Of course, stick around in town for the annual Midnight Mass in the Basilica of the Nativity. Local Christians and pilgrims from around the world gather in the church for mass and prayers. Due to the overwhelming popularity of the event, only visitors who've received a special entrance ticket are allowed to enter the Midnight Mass at the Church. For a full list of services and information on how to get tickets, click here


7. Watch the Christmas Parade and other Festivities in Nazareth


church of the annunciation, nazareth

Although most of the Christmas action is centered in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the Arab Christian city of Nazareth has a line up of Christmas celebrations beginning on Dec. 24 with the city's annual parade at 3:30 p.m.

The traditional parade includes thousands of Christian youth and the leaders of the Christian communities, through the main street of Nazareth.


Photo: Travelujah

The parade will be followed by fireworks at 5:15 p.m. and then Christmas Eve Mass at 7:30 p.m. On Sunday, Dec. 25, Christmas Mass at the Church of the Annunciation the first Mass will begin at 7 a.m. At 10 a.m., a festive Mass will take place with the Custos of the Holy Land or Bishop Marcuzzo.


8. Enjoy Classical Christmas Concerts in Abu Gosh

It may be off the beaten path of Christmas, but the Israeli Arab town of Abu Gosh on the outskirts of Jerusalem will also have seasonal festivities. Two concerts will take place, one on Christmas Eve and the other on New Year's Eve, featuring classical holiday pieces.

On Dec. 24 at 12:00 at the Kiryat Yearim Church, an ensemble will perform Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Motet for soprano and orchestra. On Dec. 31, also at 12:00, the Kiryat Yearim Church will host a “Christmas Oratorio – A Vocal Christmas Festival.” The concert will feature J.S. Bach's Cantata no. 5 from the Christmas Oratorio, Saint-Saens' Christmas Oratorio and Poulenc's Four Christmas Motets. Tickets for either concert are 110 shekels.

9. Celebrate Christmas with the Armenians of Jerusalem


st. james, armenian quarter, jerusalem

So you think just because it is the middle of January that you missed Christmas in the Holy Land? Don't worry - it's not over yet. While Catholic and Protestant Christians celebrate on Dec. 25, and Orthodox Christians on Jan. 6, the Armenians in Jerusalem – and only in Jerusalem – celebrate Christmas on Jan. 19, or on the eve, Jan. 18.


The Armenians in Jerusalem are the only Christian community in the world to abide by the late Christmas date, 13 days after the Gregorian calendar of the traditional Orthodox Christmas date of Jan. 6. The Armenians will actually have rung in the New Year on Jan. 13.

Photo: All About Jerusalem.com

For Christmas, the Armenian Patriarch, priests and a marching band will make a motorcade procession from the Old City of Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The processional then continues on foot at Bethlehem's Manger Square into the Church of the Nativity. A Christmas mass will also take place at Saint James in Jerusalem, a unique service as the church has no electricity and is lit solely by the colorful oil lamps hanging in the square stone basilica. Services begin at 10 p.m. and continue until 6 a.m. in Bethlehem and Jerusalem.


10. Be a Part of the Epiphany at Qasr Al-Yahud


qasr al yahud, baptism, greek orthodox, epiphany

The Epiphany is celebrated every year on Jan. 18 at Qasr Al Yahud, the traditional baptism spot on the Jordan River. This fascinating and colorful ceremony attracts thousands of Orthodox pilgrims from around the world.


The feast of Epiphany (from the Greek for “appearance”) symbolizes the visit of the Wise Men to Bethlehem when Jesus was born and Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. The Epiphany caps off the Orthodox Christmas season. On this day, many Christians come from around the Holy Land and world to get baptized.


Photo: All About Jerusalem.com

The joyous occasion can seem a bit raucous with dozens of young people playing pipes, beating drums and singing. The main procession is led by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and monks. At the height of the ceremony, the Greek patriarch releases white doves into the air while church bells ring.


By Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah

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

Tags: christmas holy land 

November 27, 2011November 27, 2011  1 comments  Uncategorized

With four weeks until Christmas, the time of preparation leading up to the holiday has begun. Advent is observed on each Sunday of the four Sundays until Christmas Day, Dec. 25.

The word Advent come from the Latin word meaning “coming” and celebrates the coming of the Lord. During each day of Advent, Christians prepare for the “arrival” of the Lord Jesus by recalling the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament that were fulfilled in the first Christmas story.

The theme of readings and teachings during Advent and its purpose is to prepare for the second coming of Jesus while commemorating his first coming. Special readings are prescribed for each of the four Sundays in Advent, while an Advent calendar, primarily used by children, recounts the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem in the days leading to the savior's birth. Also, a candle on the traditional Advent wreath is lit each Sunday.

In many homes, some Christians mark the beginning of Advent by decorating the house or baking holiday cookies.

No one really knows when the celebration of Advent was first introduced into the Church, but it was originally observed as a time of fasting and penitence. Now its emphasis in the Western churches is usually interpreted as one of expectation and anticipation for the Messiah and a joyous time.

Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches fast 40 days, similar to Lent, rather than like Western churches' joyous observance of Advent. The Eastern Churches' equivalent of Advent, the Nativity Fast, is 40 days long and began on Nov. 15, 2011. The Advent season begins on Nov. 27, 2011 and ends on Dec. 24, 2011.

The themes of the Advent season are Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. Lighting of candles, especially the circular Advent wreath with five candles is an important tradition of the Advent season. Each Sunday of Advent, one of four candles is lit -- with the final candle, the Christ Candle, being lit on Christmas Eve.

December 2, 2011December 2, 2011  0 comments  Uncategorized


While you can't beat actually being in Bethlehem for Christmas, there is a way to connect from afar during this season. Throughout Advent the celebration of the Eucharist will be broadcast live from the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem welcoming anyone from around the world who wants a taste of Christmas in the Holy Land.

The chapel of the Milk Grotto is believed to be the place where Mary breastfed Jesus before the holy family fled to Egypt on instructions from an angel who warned Joseph in a dream that Herod was looking for Jesus in order to kill him. According to tradition, some drops of milk fell to the ground, turning the stone white. Today, both Christian and Muslim women pray at the chapel for breastfeeding and fertility issues.

As of Nov. 28 and until 5 Jan. 5, an Italy-based Catholic broadcasting network,omegawatchreview TV2000, will be broadcasting the daily 8:30 a.m. mass live from the Milk Grotto. That would be at 1:30 a.m. EST in the US.

The mass celebrations will be streamed live on the TV2000 website and the Holy Land's Franciscan website. Some 20 nuns who are cloistered there will attend the celebrations.

The grotto is under the care of the Franciscans.



Fr. Michele Piccirillo, a Franciscan archaeologist who died three years ago, taught about the ancient tradition in which women who could not lactate or conceive would dissolve some dust from the rock inside the grotto in a glass of water and drink it, to ask for the intercession of the Holy Mary.


By Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah

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




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