All across the world, winter is a time for joy and festivities, and there are a number of December holiday celebrations in Israel! While public events aren’t taking place in 2020, we’re helping you plan for 2021. From Novy God to Hanukkah, they will warm your heart. An eclectic mix of cultures and communities, Israel offers an amazing mix of holiday experiences. Go out and explore what makes Israel so special during this time of the year. And pick the perfect unforgettable present with our Holiday Gifts from Israel guide!
Hanukkah in Israel
The festival of lights, Hanukkah is a celebration of the Second Temple’s rededication and the victory of the rebellious Maccabees against the Seleucids. Unlike other holidays on the Jewish calendar, Hanukkah doesn’t require much preparation and rather focuses on joy. You can see this echoed in the public celebrations, which include everything from concerts put on by local schools to lighting of giant Hanukkiahs across the country. One of our favorites is the Hanukkah Torch Relay, where runners carry a large torch to the Hanukkiah at the Western Wall that marks the beginning of the festival.
Holiday lights are strung across the city streets of Jerusalem, and families celebrate with sufganyot, small gifts for children, and competitive games of dreidel. If you’re currently in Jerusalem, there is a new event that’s worth checking out- Winter Lights at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens! Although this year is different than most, the joy that this miracle celebrates won’t be lost as families light candles across Israel. Being in Israel for Hanukkah is a special experience. You can celebrate Hanukkah in northern Israel or Hanukkah in Jerusalem with locals to get a whole new look at this festival.
Christmas in Israel
Christmas celebrations are joyous across the country. Cities like Bethlehem and Nazareth are well worth the visit for their unique celebrations. Christmas in Nazareth is highly revered, and the city pulls out all the stops to celebrate. You can find special masses being held, admire the twinkling lights that cover the city, attend concerts, or enjoy the annual parade on the 24th through the city. It’s one of the top destinations for holiday celebrations in Israel. If you’re staying in Jerusalem, you should also be able to enjoy Christmas in Jerusalem.
Bethlehem is always an incredible city to visit, and it really comes to life for Christmas celebrations. Visit the Church of the Nativity or stand in the Shepherd’s Field to watch some of the many processions pass you by. A variety of denominations from Ethiopian to Greek Orthodox gather here, adding to the atmosphere of joy. The decorations are always elaborate, and there’s a unique feeling in the air that you won’t find elsewhere.
Christmas in Bethlehem should not be missed! We have a whole article on why you should celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem. We also offer a Christmas Mass tour that shows you every corner of the city. Smaller Arab Christian communities, like the ones in Haifa and Jaffa, often hold markets and tree lighting ceremonies. Christmas in Israel is an experience unlike any other.
Novy God in israel
This is a secular holiday for Russian and other soviet-bloc immigrants. The phrase “Novy God”, pronounced “no-vee gode”, means “New Year” in Russian. Completely separated from both communism and religion, this is a holiday that all religions celebrate with close family and friends. While many elements of its celebration, like the Yolka tree topped with a red star and Ded Moroz, or Father Frost, resemble Christmas, these are regional cultural practices that hail from much older roots.
Traditional bites and drinks include champagne and vodka to toast the new year, and zakuski, a mix of appetizers. Fare ranges from Olivier salat to blinis, and be sure you’ll see beets somewhere on the table. Many families also play a countdown show from Russia in the background. They celebrate midnight with toasts and the ubiquitous Napoleon cake, dancing until they drop.
New Year’s Eve in Israel
January 1st was long the beginning of the New Year. Pope Gregory formalized this date in 1582 while correcting issues with the calendar traditionally used. It was originally a Christian event, one that merged with the celebration of Saint Sylvester. New Year’s Eve has grown in popularity as a secular day of celebration worldwide. New Year’s Eve in Israel is also called Silvester. It includes many of the same events as the rest of the world.
Restaurants dress up and offer special tasting menus accompanied by champagne. Clubs put on raucous countdown events, and the streets fill with celebrants toasting the new calendar year. There are also fireworks throughout the country. One of our favorite displays happens in Eilat on the shores of the Red Sea. New Year’s Eve in Tel Aviv and New Year’s Eve in Jerusalem are both fantastic!
Celebrate the Season in Israel
Holiday celebrations in Israel can see you out on the town, or snuggled up with loved ones. Once December rolls around, festivities start and don’t stop coming for an entire month! This season of warmth and lights is our favorite part of the year, and we wish you and your loved ones Happy Holidays from Tourist Israel!