CHRISTMAS IN BETHLEHEM

Our guide to celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem

Christmas in Bethlehem is as special as can be if you're looking for the ultimate way to celebrate Christmas in Israel - and why not? It is the birthplace of the Reason for the Season.

Christmas in Bethlehem is a moving experience, especially since this small Christian Arab town doesn’t usually hold back from festivities and religious events to embrace the holiday spirit. If you're looking for a Christmas to truly remember, this could be it...

Christmas festivities start rolling out weeks before Christmas and last through the first week after the big day. The most anticipated highlight of the season is the Midnight Mass that’s held in St. Catherine’s Church (we've done it and it truly is worth doing, just for that extra festive feeling), and if you want to get tickets for it to complete your Christmas in Bethlehem experience, you can apply here through to December 17th.

One question we're asked - is it safe to visit Bethlehem at Christmas? Our answer - a big, fat yes!

Note that during the Christmas celebrations the Ministry of Tourism usually put on free transport for those traveling between Jerusalem and Bethlehem (also check out our guide on getting from Jerusalem to Bethlehem). Buses will leave according to demand from Mar Elias Monastery to the Church of the Nativity, and back again, and will be operating non-stop from noon on 24 December through to noon on 25 December. 

If you're looking for a great, budget-friendly Christmas tour of Bethlehem that takes care of all the logistics, CLICK HERE!

Here’s a rundown of events to look forward to when spending Christmas in Bethlehem:

2 December:

(Date to be confirmed for 2018) The lighting of the Christmas tree in Manger Square, which is right smack in the center of town. This will be anytime between 6-8 PM. This is the commencement of all activities, since most Christmas processions will pass through the Square. Check here for more details.

15-23 December:

Schedule of Christmas novena at St. Catherine’s Church. This is something you won't want to miss, and it’s scheduled for 4:30 PM on said dates.

24 December – This day is packed with various activities, as listed below:

  • At 1 PM, His Beatitude, Jerusalem’s Latin Patriarch, Fuad Twal, is welcomed at the Tomb of Rachel by Bethlehem’s Latin Parish Priest, as well as representatives of Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, and Bethlehem.
  • At 1:30 PM, His Beatitude will commence with his Solemn Entry into the Basilica of the Nativity and St. Catherine’s Church. His Beatitude will pass through Manger Square and will be followed by Pontifical Vespers.
  • The Daily Procession from St. Catherine’s Church to the Nativity Grotto will start at 4 PM.
  • St. Catherine’s Church will open its doors at 9 PM for the anticipated Midnight Mass. Tickets will be required for this.
  • Solemn “Office of Readings” will continue at St. Catherine’s Church at 11:15 PM.

25 December – Religious ceremonies continue through Christmas day:

  • Pontifical Eucharistic Concelebration will commence at St. Catherine’s Church at 12 midnight. This event will require tickets, so make sure to buy yours early.
  • Low masses will be held at the Manger Grotto at 2:30 AM through to 5:15 AM. There will be a lull from 5:30 to 7:00 AM. No tickets are required for these masses.
  • A parish mass in Arabic will be held at St. Catherine’s Church at 7:30 AM.
  • At 10 AM, a Pontifical Christmas mass in Arabic and Latin will be held at St. Catherine’s Church.
  • At 2 PM, a pilgrimage to the Greek and Latin Shepherd’s Field will start.

26 December – A day after Christmas, the Feast of St. Stephen will be observed:

  • There will be holy masses to be held at the Manger Grotto at 5 and 7:30 AM.
  • Holy masses in Italian will be held at St. Catherine’s Church at 6:30 AM, while an Arabic mass will commence at 7 AM.
  • The daily procession from St. Catherine’s Church to the Nativity Grotto will start at 12 noon.

27 December – On this day, there will be an observance of the Feast of St. John Evangelist:

  • Once again, there will be holy masses at the Manger Grotto at 5 and 7:30 AM.
  • A holy mass in Italian will be given at St. Catherine’s Church at 6:30 AM, as well as an Arabic holy mass at 7 AM.
  • A procession to the Nativity Grotto will commence at 12 noon.
  • At 4:45 PM, the Veneration of the Rock of Manger Grotto will start.

28 December – This day is reserved for the Feast of the Holy Innocents:

  • Another round of holy masses will be held at 5 and 7:30 AM at the Manger Grotto.
  • There will be a 6:30 AM Italian holy mass, as well as one in Arabic at 7 AM, both at St. Catherine’s Church.
  • At 10 AM, there will be a sung mass in Latin at the Grotto of the Holy Innocents.
  • A procession to the Nativity Grotto will start at 12 noon.
  • Vespers will be held at the Grotto of the Holy Innocents at 2 PM.

29 December:

  • Manger Grotto holy masses will be held at 5 and 7:30 AM.
  • Simultaneous holy masses in Italian and Arabic will be held at St. Catherine’s Church at 6:30 and 7 AM, respectively.
  • At 12 noon, there will be a procession to the Nativity Grotto.
  • There will be a solemn mass at Shepherd’s Field at 3 PM in commemoration of the Shepherds.

30 December:

  • There will be holy masses to be held at the Manger Grotto at 5 and 8:30 AM.
  • A holy mass in Italian will commence at 6:30 AM at St. Catherine’s Church, followed by one in Arabic at 7:30, 9, and 11 AM, and another Arabic holy mass at 4:30 PM.

31 December – New Year’s Eve:

  • Holy masses will once again be held at the Manger Grotto at 5 and 7:30 AM.
  • An Italian holy mass will be held at 6:30 AM at St. Catherine’s Church.
  • At 2 PM, a solemn vespers along with a procession to the Nativity Grotto will commence.
  • A Eucharistic adoration followed by a holy mass of thanksgiving in Arabic with Te Deum will be held at 4 PM.

1 January:

  • The day will start with holy masses at the Manger Grotto at 5 and 7:30 AM.
  • A 6:30 AM holy mass in Italian and a 7:30 AM holy mass in Arabic will be held at St. Catherine’s Church.
  • At 10:30 AM, a solemn mass in Arabic followed by a procession of the Virgin Mary’s icon to the Milk Grotto will commence.

5 January – This marks the Eve of Epiphany:

  • Once again, 5 and 7:30 AM holy masses will be held at the Manger Grotto.
  • At 11 AM, His Paternity, the Custos of the Holy Land, will be welcomed by the Latin Parish Priest and other representatives of Bethlehem at the Tomb of Rachel.
  • His Paternity, the Custos of the Holy Land will begin his solemn entry into the Basilica of the Nativity and St. Catherine’s Church at 11:30 AM.
  • There will be a pontifical vespers and procession to the Nativity Grotto at 1:45 PM.
  • At 3:30 PM, there will be an Office of Readings at St. Catherine’s Church followed by a procession to the Nativity Grotto.

6 January – The Epiphany:

  • Holy masses will be held from 12 midnight until 9 AM at the Grotto, followed by a break from 1 to 2:30 PM.
  • There will be a holy mass at St. Catherine’s Church at 7:30 AM.
  • A pontifical mass in Latin and Arabic will be held at St. Catherine’s Church at 10 AM.
  • At 3:30 PM, there will be solemn vespers at St. Catherine’s Church followed by a solemn traditional procession to the Grotto, where the veneration of the Infant Jesus with gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh will transpire.

Incidentally, the Basilica of the Nativity stands on the exact spot where supposedly, Jesus was born, as most Christian denominations are wont to believe. What the place stands for, its significance on Christmas Day, is not lost to Christians, which explains why an anticipated Midnight Mass is held there each Christmas Eve to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Every year, guests and dignitaries from all over the globe who want to experience Christmas in Bethlehem attend the Mass. Only those with invitations can go inside the Basilica, although the service is shown on a large screen erected at Manger Square, which is just outside the Basilica.

Do check out www.cicts.org for the latest information on Christmas and New Year services in Bethlehem.

More on Christmas...

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