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December 13, 2013December 13, 2013  0 comments  Religious ceremonies

Christmas season and the celebration of Christ’s birth is the special time when the attention of the whole world suddenly turns towards the place where He was born – Bethlehem. Millions of people dream of joining the annual commemoration of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, yet few still make this important pilgrimage. For those that do choose to realize their dream of Christmas in Bethlehem they will undoubtedly enjoy a very special Christmas experience.

Come Home to Bethlehem

Christmas in Bethlehem 2013 Travelujah

“Come Home for Christmas” is this year’s marketing slogan. Bethlehem’s mayor, Vera Baboun explains “Bethlehem is home for every faithful in the message of peace”. She also compares Bethlehem to “Home” because of “its people, its safety, fraternity and its warmth …”

On December 1 2013, Custodian of the Holy Land Pierbattista Pizzaballa came to Bethlehem to celebrate the first week of Advent, a season of four weeks of eager preparations for the celebration of the Nativity of Christ. This was also the day of the lighting of the 15 meters high Christmas tree, placed on the Manger Square in front of the Basilica of the Nativity. The event, which also included fireworks and cultural performances attracted a many people from all faiths.  

Not surprisingly, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on the 24th and 25th of December respectively, are the peak days of the season. Visitors flock to the city in hope to participate in Christmas Eve Mass in the St. Catherine's Church of the Nativity Church, which is celebrated exactly over the grotto where Christ was born. Others simply wish to enjoy Bethlehem during this very significant period.

No room for Mary and Joseph

Christmas in Bethlehem 2013 Travelujah

Christmas season 2013 should have a positive impact on the local economy. Many hotels and guest houses are reporting full occupancy between 24th and 26th of December. Locals joke by saying that if Mary and Joseph would travel to Bethlehem this year, they would again have a difficulty with finding room at the inn, and while this might be true – there are many families that open their houses to the visitors. It is possible to rent a room or a whole apartment and enjoy Christmas in Bethlehem.

Planning to spend Christmas 2013 in Bethlehem? Travelujah has compiled a number of useful tips and answers on the frequently asked questions regarding this year’s Christmas in Bethlehem:

1.    Where is Bethlehem located?

Bethlehem is a Palestinian town under Palestinian Authority’s administration, which is located around 9 km south from Jerusalem.

2.    How to travel form Jerusalem to Bethlehem?

It is possible to reach Bethlehem from Jerusalem by public transportation. Buses to Bethlehem can be found on the Bus Station located in front of the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem. Bus #21 (7.5 NIS) can take you through Beit Jala to Bab el-Zkak, which is a main junction in Bethlehem (Beit Jala and Hebron-Jerusalem roads), situated around 1 km from the Manger Square, which can be reached on foot after 15 minutes of following Pope Paul VI street. Bus #24 (5.5 NIS) can take you to the ‘checkpoint 300’ (Rachel’s Tomb checkpoint), which has to be crossed on foot. It is around 2 km away from the Manger Square. It is very easy to find a taxi after the checkpoint. However, if you would like to walk this distance, please first follow Manger Street for 15 minutes, and then turn towards Star Street, which after another 15 minutes will lead you to the Manger Square.

Please remember to take your travel document with you. Your identity will be checked at both  the Beit Jala checkpoint and Rachel’s Tomb checkpoint on your way back into to Jerusalem.

A free shuttle bus, organized by the Bethlehem Municipality is available on December 24 to help everyone who would like to join the Christmas Celebrations on the Manger Square. The shuttle buses are expected to operate from 3 pm until 9 pm. Pick up points are: 1) ‘DCO’ – which is the entrance to Beit Jala that can be reached with the bus #21 from Jerusalem. The shuttle will pass through Beit Jala Municipality Square and dropping passangers at the Bus Station close to the Manger Square and the Nativity Church.
2) After checkpoint 300 with drop off at the Bus Station
3) Nissan Restaurant Roundabout with drop off at the Bus Station
4) Beit Sahour Market Square with drop off at the Bus Station.

Israel’s Ministry of Tourism also aims to facilitate visitors with free buses leaving according to demand from Mar Elias Monastery to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and back again. These buses will operate non-stop from noon on 24 December through to noon on 25 December. Mar Elias Monastery can be reached by both buses #21 and #24 from Jerusalem.

3.    Can I visit the Nativity Church during 24th – 26th of December?

The Nativity Church and the St. Catherine’s Church can be visited on December 24th only during the morning hours (5 am – 12 am). On the 25th and 26th of December the Nativity Church can be visited from 5 am till 5 pm. The Church of the St. Catherine can be visited only after 12 am on December 25 due to the Christmas masses.

4.    When is the best time to visit Bethlehem to enjoy the Christmas celebrations?

Decembers 24th is generally the most interesting day with a variety of activities available. To tour the Nativity Church, you must arrive before noon, the church will be closed at 12 pm to prepare for the Christmas Eve Mass.

The solemn welcoming of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem is a major highlight on December 24th. The annual scout parade begins from the King David Wells and follows Star Street towards Manger Square. The scout shows begin at 11 am and the Patriarch is scheduled to arrive at the Rachel’s Tomb at 1 pm and he will enter the Nativity Church at 2:30 pm.

Arrive as early as possible, even a day prior if possible, to avoid any last minute delays.

5.    How to obtain tickets to the Christmas Eve Mass in the St. Catherine’s Church?

Christmas in Bethlehem 2013 Travelujah

The St. Catherine’s Church door opens at 9 pm and the Christmas Eve mass service begins at 11:15 pm. Special tickets are required to attend Christmas Eve Mass. To apply for a ticket please contact the Christian Information Center in Jerusalem at fpo@cicts.org. More information and the application form can be found here: http://cicts.org/default.asp?id=739&ricerca=christmas+mass

While tickets are free of charge, there is always a higher number of the pilgrims seeking to attend the mass than space available in the church. The mass is also shown on a giant screen to those outside in Manger Square.

6.    Are there any alternative church services for Christmas in Bethlehem? -Yes.

24/12 – Tuesday – Christmas Eve Mass:

  • 5 pm – Christmas Lutheran Church (Madbaseh Square) in Arabic
  • 6 pm - Mass of Salesian Fathers in the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church (Star Street) in Arabic
  • 8 pm - Greek Catholic Church (Star Street) in Arabic
  • 9 pm - Christmas Lutheran Church (Madbaseh Square) International Christmas Eve Service
  • The Christmas Eve Mass has been also yearly celebrated in the Latin Shepherd’s Fields Church in Beit Sahour. According to the information given by the CIC in Jerusalem the exact hour of the service will be announced one week before the celebration.

25/12 (Wednesday) - Christmas Day Mass:

  • 8:30 am - Mass of Salesian Fathers in the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church (Star Street) in Arabic
  • 9:30 am - Greek Catholic Church (Star Street) in Arabic
  • 10:30 am – Christmas Lutheran Church (Madbaseh Square) in Arabic

26/12 (Thursday) - Christmas Day Mass:

  • 10 am - Greek Catholic Church (Star Street) in Arabic

7.    Are there any civic events during this period?

Yes, of course! Bethlehem Municipality and other private organizations prepared a very nice program of interesting civic events

24/12 – Tuesday:

  • 10 am – The Bible College Choir on the Manger Square stage
  • 11 am – Vocalist Fares Abu Farha on the Manger Square stage
  • 1:30 pm – Reception of his Beatitude the Latin Patriarch on the Manger Square
  • 3 pm – Forgive All Concert in the Convention Palace (next to Solomon Pools – Artas)
  • 4 pm – The Anglican Cathedral of St. George holds a carol service at Shepherd’s Fields of YMCA
  • 4 pm – Show of Traditional Palestinian Costumes by Palestinian Heritage Center on the Manger Square stage
  • 4:05 pm – St. Catherine Church Choir on the Manger Square stage
  • 4:45 pm – Al-Bishara Choir from Nazareth on the Manger Square stage
  • 5:30 pm – Kisi Kids – Austrian & Russian Kids on the Manger Square stage
  • 6:30 pm – Trondheim, Rim Banna, Henning Sommerro on the Manger Square stage
  • 7:30 pm – Christmas Carols by the Baptist Church from Jerusalem on M. S. stage
  • 8:30 pm – The Korean American Everlasting Choir on the Manger Square stage
  • 9:30 pm – Chichi Choir from England on the Manger Square stage
  • 10:45 pm –  Vocalist Elizabeth Von Trapp on the Manger Square stage
  • Shepherd’s Nights Musical Festival in the Old City of Beit Sahour: 3:30 pm Al Harah Theater – show for children; 6:00 pm – Thaer Bargouthi; 7:00 pm – Lutheran School Choir

25/12 – Wednesday:

  • Shepherd’s Nights Musical Festival in the Old City of Beit Sahour: 4:30 pm Candles March (from the Orthodox Shepherds’ Field to Souk el Sha3eb, then to the Old City of Beit Sahour.); 6:00 pm – Dam Band; 7:00 pm Closing Ceremony

8.    Can I have a Christmas lunch / party in Bethlehem?

Yes. Numerous restaurants and hotels are available in Bethlehem where one can reserve a Christmas lunch or dinner. Reservations are suggested.  For more information, please contact: vicbethlehem@gmail.com

9.    How can I book an accommodation in Bethlehem with a local family for Christmas?

If you would like to book any kind of accommodation in Bethlehem, the team of the Visitor Information Center in Bethlehem can help you. Contact vicbethlehem@gmail.com

10. Can I return to Jerusalem after the Christmas Eve Mass is finished?

Yes, there will be provided a free bus service, which will operate non-stop from noon on 24 Dec. through to noon on 25 Dec. from the Nativity Square to the Mar Elias Monastery. Please note that Mar Elias Monastery is closer to Bethlehem than to the Old City of Jerusalem and therefore you may wish to consider arranging a taxi to pick you up directly from Bethlehem or from Mar Elias Monastery.

Christmas Eve Tour

Christmas in Bethlehem 2013 Travelujah

If you would like to visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem on the Christmas Eve with a guided tour, join this special Christmas Eve Tour offered by Travelujah. There are sheduled pickups from Herzliya, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.


Beata Andonia blogs regularly for Travelujah, the leading faith-based social network in the Holy Land. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010. 

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