Christmas in Bethlehem

Asked to be Mary and Joseph at Nazareth Village, we donned first-century garb in the city where, two thousand years ago, the real Mary and Joseph began a journey towards a person who would bring peace on earth.

Looking forward to the celebration of Jesus’ birth, Betsy and I made our way to Joseph, Mary, and soon-to-be-born Jesus’ destination: Bethlehem.  Though we went the easy way by bus this time, we talked about what it would be like to do it again the “real way”—by foot on the 11-day, 160 kilometer Nativity Trail, from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  “Maybe we can borrow a donkey and some first century outfits from our friends at Nazareth Village….”  And as we thought further of how it could be as realistic as possible, the age-old question struck us again: “What must this epic journey have been like for a pregnant woman?!”

Crossing at a checkpoint, we walked along the wall—with messages hopeful for peace—and onto the main street, passing “David’s Well.”  What an awe-inspiring thing to be in the humble “town of David,” so close to mighty Jerusalem on one side and the mighty Herodion on the other.  Would the kings of the world ever bring peace to these lands?  The angels sang instead of a baby in a manger that would bring peace to all peoples.

Rounding a bend and climbing a hill past a mosque, we crossed a square and bent down to enter the massive Church of the Nativity, said to be “the oldest standing church in the country.”  I was fascinated by the story explaining its longevity:

When the Persians invaded in AD 614, they destroyed every Christian church and monastery in the land except this one.  Legend holds that the church was adorned with a wall painting depicting the Nativity tale, including the visit to the infant Jesus by the Three Wise Men of the East.  For the local artist, “east” meant Persia (modern-day Iran), and he dressed his wise men in Persian garb.  The Persian conquerors did not understand the picture’s significance, but “recognized” themselves in the painting and so spared the church. (Fodor’s)

As I pondered this story, I thought of how the Wise Men lead all of us who are seeking in a similar way for Jesus’ light from the far places of the world.  Like Betsy and I, many of the Jesus Trail hikers we have met here have also come great distances to be changed in the places Jesus first breathed, walked, and changed the world.

The Persian soldiers, in their turn, lead us to imagine ourselves in the midst of this world-changing event, with all its strangeness and bewilderment.  Perhaps they wondered, “Why would these respectable men from our land bow and bring gifts to a little baby in this land?  The circumstances of this story must have been very unusual!”  I wonder if any of them looked back to see the church still standing behind them on the hillside, a huge monument to a little baby.

Just below Bethlehem we sought out Beit Sahour, the place of the angelic announcements to “shepherds in their fields nearby.”  Unsure if we found the right place or not, we nevertheless found a genuine shepherd watching his goats and some farmers plowing and sowing on the terraced hillsides with a donkey, just as they would have done in the first century!  Waving to them as we hiked up through their fields, we left Bethlehem—like the Wise Men—by another route.

Back to Jesus’ childhood town of Nazareth to take part in local Christmas celebrations (see details below)…

(photos by Philip & Betsy)


Photos from the Shepherds’ Fields in the town of Beit Sahour,
on the outskirts of Bethlehem

Nazareth Village Christmas Program

For ten years, Nazareth Village has invited those of all ages to delight in the wonder of Christ’s birth. We invite you and your family to come and celebrate the first Christmas with us. Walk with Mary and Joseph as they search for a room. Reach out and pat a donkey, sing carols of good news, feel the joy and longing experienced two thousand years ago. We welcome you to join us December 21-23 or 28-30, 2010 at 5:30pm or 7pm for a journey into the true meaning of Christmas.

TOURS BY BOOKING ONLY! – To book call 04-6456042 or email

Ticket prices:

  • 30 NIS per adult
  • 20 NIS per child over 5
  • 100 NIS per family

Nazareth Christmas Activities

Thursday, December 23

  • 18:00 – 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. In the program: a special Christmas concert conducted by Imad Abu Sinai with guest singer Georgit Nofi.

Christmas Eve, December 24

  • 15:00 – Traditional parade of thousands of youth from youth movements, together with the leaders of the Christian communities, through Paul XI Street, Nazareth’s main street.
  • 17:00 – Fireworks display, sponsored by the Tourism Ministry, to announce the opening of the festive Christmas celebrations
  • 19:30 – The Christmas Mass in the Church of the Annunciation, in the presence of Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, the Patriarchal Vicar for Israel.

Christmas Day, December 25

Mass in all the Catholic Churches. The first Mass in the Church of the Annunciation will take place at 07:00. A festive Mass will take place at 10:00 in the presence of the Custodian of the Holy Land or Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo.

For Christmas events in Bethlehem, click here to visit this month’s events from Visit Palestine.