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Christmas in Bethlehem

Children enjoy the Christmas play in Bethlehem. Photo © Damon Lynch. View all images in our Christmas in Bethlehem Photo Gallery.
Christmas lights in Bethlehem. Photo © Damon Lynch.
Photo © Damon Lynch.
Muslim women at the Christmas market in Bethlehem. Photo © Damon Lynch.
Greek Orthodox procession outside the Church of the Nativity. Photo © Damon Lynch.
Greek Orthodox procession outside the Church of the Nativity. Photo © Damon Lynch.
Greek Orthodox procession outside the Church of the Nativity. Photo © Damon Lynch.
Greek Orthodox procession in the Church of the Nativity. Photo © Damon Lynch.
Greek Orthodox service in the Church of the Nativity. Photo © Damon Lynch.
Greek Orthodox Patriarch in the Church of the Nativity. Photo © Damon Lynch.
Greek Orthodox service in the Church of the Nativity. Photo © Dave Berger.
Greek Orthodox midnight mass in the Church of the Nativity. Photo © Dave Berger.
Priests at the Ethiopian Orthodox service. Photo © Damon Lynch.
Ethiopian Orthodox service. Photo © Damon Lynch.

As one might imagine, Christmas in Bethlehem, the city where Jesus was born, is a major event. Some of Bethlehem's Christmas celebrations would be familiar to Europeans and North Americans - the streets are strung with Christmas lights, there is a Christmas market and Christmas plays are performed.

But other events, which are the most important religiously, are special to Bethlehem and in keeping with the traditions of the Holy Land. These consist of multiple services and processions led by many different Christian denominations, including Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian, Armenian and more.

Most Christmas processions pass through Manger Square, the plaza outside the Basilica of the Nativity, which stands on the traditional site of Jesus' birth. Catholic services take place in St. Catherine's Church and Protestants often hold services at the Shepherds' Fields.

Bethlehem Christmas celebrations stretch for a long period, as different denominations celebrate Christmas on different days. Roman Catholics and Protestants celebrate Christmas on December 25; Greek, Syrian and other Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 6; and Armenian Christians celebrate Christmas on January 18. Below is a summary of the many services and events that take place in Bethlehem.

Protestant Christmas in Bethlehem

Protestant churches based in the Holy Land celebrate Christmas in a variety of ways. Some simply hold special Christmas services in their local churches, while others organize excursions for special services in the Shepherd's Fields or the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The Anglican Cathedral of St. George, the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer and the YMCA are among the Jerusalem churches who organize travel to Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations. Buses leave from the Jerusalem churches and advance tickets are normally required. Following is a typical combined schedule for these Protestant events.

Time Place Event
December 24
4pm Shepherds' Fields Anglican carol Service in the Shepherds Field (YMCA) of Beit Sahour in English and Arabic
4:30pm Shepherds' Fields YMCA Christmas Eve Service at YMCA Shepherds' Fields, Beit Sahour in English
5pm Lutheran Church in Bethlehem Lutheran service in German and English
9pm Church of the Nativity Anglican Christmas carols and lessons in English and Arabic

Catholic Christmas in Bethlehem

Roman Catholic services begin on December 24 and center around St. Catherine's Church, a Catholic church adjacent to the Orthodox Basilica of the Nativity. Services are also held on January 5 and 6 to celebrate Epiphany. A typical schedule of Catholic events in Bethlehem is as follows:

Time Place Event
DECEMBER 24
1.00 pm Tomb of Rachel The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, is welcomed by Latin Parish Priest of Bethlehem and representatives of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.
1.30 pm Manger Square Solemn entry of the Latin Patriarch into the Basilica of the Nativity and  St. Catherine Church followed by Pontifical Vespers.
4.00 pm Grotto of the Nativity Daily procession from St. Catherine's Church to the Nativity Grotto (inside the Basilica of the Nativity)
10.00 pm St. Catherine's Church St Catherine's Church is opened. Advance tickets required (free of charge).
11.10 pm St. Catherine's Solemn "Office of Readings".
DECEMBER 25
Midnight St. Catherine's  Pontifical Eucharistic Concelebration.
Midnight Grotto of the Nativity Low Masses till 5.15am with interruption at 1:30-2:30am and at 5:30am to 7am approximately.
1.30 am St. Catherine's Solemn traditional Procession to the Grotto.
10.00 am St. Catherine's Chanting of Terce and Pontifical Mass.
2.00 pm Shepherds' Fields Pilgrimage to the Orthodox Grotto of the Shepherds and the Latin Chapel of Shepherds' Field.
DECEMBER 26
Various St. Catherine's Church Masses at 6.30, 7.30, 10.00 am., and 4.30 pm.
JANUARY 5
11am Tomb of Rachel His Paternity the Custos of the Holy Land is welcomed by Latin Parish Priest and other representatives of Bethlehem.
11:30am Manger Square Solemn Entry of his Paternity the Custos of the Holy Land into the  Basilica of the Nativity and St. Catherine Church.
1:30pm St. Catherine's Church Pontifical Vespers and Procession to the Grotto of the Nativity.
3:30pm St. Catherine's Church Pontifical Vespers and Procession to the Grotto of the Nativity.
JANUARY 6
Midnight Grotto of the Nativity Masses till 9am with an interruption between about 1am and 2am
10am St. Catherine's Church Pontifical Eucharistic Concelebration.
3:30pm St Catherine's Church Sung vespers and solemn traditional procession to the Grotto.

Orthodox Christmas in Bethlehem

Orthodox Christians, including Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox and others, celebrate Christmas on January 6. Like Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christmas in Bethlehem consists of numerous processions and long services. Most Orthodox events take place at the Basilica of the Nativity. A typical Orthodox schedule of events is as follows:

Time Place Event
JANUARY 6
9am Manger Square The Syrian Archbishop arrives at Manger Square
9:30am Manger Square The Coptic Archbishop arrives at Manger Square
11am Manger Square The Greek Orthodox Patriarch arrives at Manger Square
1pm-3:30pm Church of the Nativity Greek Orthodox vespers and liturgy
1pm Church of the Nativity Syrian vespers
2:30pm Church of the Nativity Coptic vespers
3:30pm Manger Square Ethiopian arrival at the Manger Square and procession to the Ethiopian Church of Eyesus on Milk Grotto Street
4-5pm Church of Eyesus Ethiopian vespers
8:45pm Church of Eyesus Ethiopian bells, prayers and veneration of the Icons
9:50pm Church of Eyesus Ethiopian laudes (Mahlet)
10:30pm Church of the Nativity Greek matins
10:40pm Church of the Nativity Coptic liturgy
11pm Church of the Nativity Syrian liturgy
11:15pm Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Jerusalem) Greek midnight service
JANUARY 7
Midnight-3:30am Church of the Nativity Greek liturgy
Midnight Church of Eyesus Midnight Liturgy (Kidassie)
4am Church of Eyesus Ethiopian special breakfast

Armenian Christmas in Bethlehem

Armenian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 18. Most Armenian Christmas services center around the Basilica of the Nativity. A typical Armenian schedule of events is as follows:

Time Place Event
JANUARY 18
11am Manger Square Arrival of the Armenian Patriarch on Manger Square
2:30pm Church of the Nativity Entry in the Church of the Nativity followed by vespers
10:30pm-1am Church of the Nativity Midnight service
JANUARY 19
1:15am Grotto of the Nativity Episcopal High Mass
4:30am Grotto of the Nativity Patriarchate Mass
6am Grotto of the Nativity Mass concludes

Quick Facts on Christmas in Bethlehem

Site Information
Names:Christmas in Bethlehem
City:Bethlehem
State:West Bank
Country:Israel & Palestine
Categories:Festivals
Faiths:Christianity
Visitor and Contact Information
Location:Bethlehem,
Coordinates:0.000000° S, 0.000000° W  (view on Google Maps)
Website:www.christusrex.org
Lodging:View hotels near this location
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

Map of Christmas in Bethlehem

Below is a location map and aerial view of Christmas in Bethlehem. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.

References

  1. Catholic Christmas Celebrations in Bethlehem/Jerusalem - Christus Rex
  2. Orthodox Christmas Celebrations in Bethlehem/Jerusalem - Christus Rex
  3. Christian Celebrations of Christmas in Bethlehem/Jerusalem - Christus Rex
  4. Christmas - Encyclopaedia Britannica
  5. Bethlehem - Encyclopaedia Britannica

More Information

Article Info

Title:Christmas in Bethlehem
Author:Holly Hayes
Last updated:10/26/2009
Permalink:www.sacred-destinations.com/usa/bethlehem-christmas/israel/bethlehem-christmas
Link code:<a href="http://www.sacred-destinations.com/usa/bethlehem-christmas/israel/bethlehem-christmas">Christmas in Bethlehem</a>