As with other Christian communities across the globe Israeli Christians celebrate the traditional religious holidays although as a Jewish country the Christian holidays are not national holidays. If you want to enjoy Christian holidays in Israel you should head for the largest Christian communities which congregate in Nazareth, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Israel is home to a number of Christian denominations including Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopians and Copts as well as other smaller denominations. Sometimes the denominations celebrate the Christian holidays on different days and have additional holy days unique to their faith.
Christmas is observed by most Christians on December 25th. Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 6th– 7th 2014 with a procession from Jerusalem’s Old City to the Monastery of Mar Elias and on to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where midnight services are held. Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 19th.
Palm Sunday (April 13th 2014) is celebrated by Catholics and Protestant Christians who walk from the Mount of Olives down into the Old City as they sing and hold palm fronds. The Orthodox and Armenian communities together with other Christian denominations enjoy a procession through the Holy Sepulchre with palm fronds.
Video: Palm Sunday, Mount of Olives, taken by tour guide Zahi Shaked
Good Friday (April 18th 2014) sees Christians following the Via Dolorosa through Jerusalem’s Old City. Other ceremonies are held at the Garden Tomb.
Holy Saturday sees the Patriarch perform the Ceremony of the Holy Fire as he lights a candle in the tomb and soon the church is full of Christians holding lit candles.
Easter Sunday (April 20th 2014) the Orthodox Armenian and Catholic communities attend mass in churches across the country including the Holy Sepulchre. Protestants attend the Sunrise Service at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.
Easter Monday at Emmaus is marked by masses in various Catholic churches and some pilgrims make the 30km walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus-Latrun for mass.
Ascension Day (28th-29th May 2014) is celebrated by Catholics at the Chapel of the Ascension, a midnight mass continues until morning followed by a procession to Viri Galilei and back.
Pentecost (June 8th 2014) is celebrated 50 days after Easter when the Holy Spirit descended to the Apostles.
Exaltation of the Holy Cross is celebrated by Catholics (14th September 2014) with mass at Calvary in the Holy Sepulchre; an Orthodox (26th-27th September 2014) evening procession goes from the Chapel of St. Helena in Deir el-Sultan to the Holy Sepulchre and the Armenians (28th September 2014) celebrate with morning Divine Liturgy in St. James Cathedral, Jerusalem.
In addition to the above Christian holidays in Israel Catholics celebrate many additional feast days and events including: the Eve of Epiphany (5th and 6th January 2014); the Feast of the Annunciation (24th-25th March 2014) is celebrated with a procession through Nazareth to the Church of the Annunciation where vespers are held and mass the following day; the Visitation of the Virgin Mary (31st May 2014) is celebrated in Ein Kerem and Jerusalem culminating with a procession through the Christian Quarter; Nativity of St. John the Baptist (24th June 2014); on Assumption Day (August 15th 2014) Catholics gather at the Church of the Domination on Mt. Zion; Nativity of Mary (8th September 2014) is celebrated with mass at St. Anne’s Church in Jerusalem and the celebration of the Immaculate Conception (8th December 2014).
Additional Orthodox Christian holy days include the Feast of St. Basil (January 1st 2014); the Feast of St. Simeon (16th February 2014) is celebrated in the house of St. Simeon in Katamon, Jerusalem; Dormition of the Theotokos (August 15th 2014) and the Nativity of Mary (21st September 2014) celebrated in Jerusalem’s St. Anne’s Church.
The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the finding of the head of St. John the Baptist (9th March 2014) at the monastery on the Mount of Olives with morning services.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Christian community celebrates Timkat (January 19th 2014) in Jerusalem Old City’s Ethiopian Church. Many of the events mentioned for Orthodox Christians are observed by the Ethiopian community.
In addition to the other Christian holidays the Armenian community celebrates the Feast of St. James the Minor (11th January 2014) with a service in St. James Cathedral in Jerusalem; the Feast of St. Vartan the Warrior (24th February 2014) is celebrated with morning services in St. James Cathedral and the Feast of the Holy Cross of Varak (12th October 2014) is celebrated in the Holy Sepulchre.