January 7 is Orthodox Christmas in Israel and around the world, with special religious celebrations in the Old City of Jerusalem and in Bethlehem.
When Catholic, Protestant and Russian Orthodox Christians finish their celebrations with the Feast of the Epiphany and take down their decorations, members of the Syrian, Coptic, Romanian, Armenian and Greek Orthodox churches are just getting started. They celebrate Christmas Day on January 7 every year. The difference in dates arises because of the 13 days difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars.
Christmas in Israel – Two Times!
Christmas is celebrated twice in the Old City of Jerusalem, in Bethlehem and in Nazareth – first on December 25 and later on January 7. There are colorful decorations throughout the season in the Christian and Armenian quarters of the Old City, and visitors can watch religious processions through its cobbled alleyways by the different denominational groups. The processions are led by archbishops, bishops and priests carrying crosses, followed by choir boys in their robes, and often accompanied by local groups of scouts playing musical instruments.
Without the more commercial trappings, Orthodox Christmas in Israel is a more religious festival, focused on church services and family feasting. Instead of eating turkey or ham, the various nationalities have different food traditions, such as the Greek Orthodox “Christopsomo” bread, baked on Christmas Day with a cross on top. For Armenian Christians it is customary to fast on the days leading up to Christmas, while Coptic Christians fast for 43 days before the feast.
Orthodox Christmas in Bethlehem
The focal point of the Christmas Nativity celebrations in Bethlehem is Manger Square at the site of the Church of the Nativity. Traditional European and Eastern Christmas decorations, such as evergreen trees and wreaths, combine with colorful displays of lights. Even Santa Claus, visiting the Middle East from the North Pole, wears his trademark red and white costume to celebrate Christmas in Israel.
There are celebrations in Nazareth too, the traditional starting point for many Christian Holy Land tours of the Galilee region, at Christmas and all year round. Pleasant sunny weather is the norm here, even in December, so it’s a great way to celebrate a warm and meaningful Christmas vacation in Israel.