On the day before Christmas this tour begins when you are picked up from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or Herzliya and taken to the City of Gold, Jerusalem where we enjoy the breathtaking view from the Mount of Olives before descending passed the Church of All Nations and Garden of Gethsemane towards the Old City. We pass through the Kidron Valley and into the Old City and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which marks the location of Christâ€™s crucifixion. This magnificent church encompasses the last four Stations of the Cross. Our tour takes us along the narrow cobbled lanes of the Old City and out through one of the ancient city wall gates. Then we take a drive through the new city of Jerusalem passed landmarks like the Israel Museum and Israeli Parliament Building.
With nightfall approaching we make our way to Bethlehem as Mary and Joseph did on the first Christmas Eve. We cross the checkpoint to the city of Bethlehem along streets lit up by Christmas lights and storefront decorations. At Manger Square we stop for our eveningâ€™s celebrations. The square is bordered by the Church of the Nativity where the Midnight Mass will take place and the ceremony will be broadcast on huge screens in Nativity Square. It may be possible to enter the church for the ceremony. While enjoying the atmosphere in the square with Christians from across the globe celebrating Christâ€™s birth we indulge in a sumptuous Christmas dinner. Following the Midnight Mass you are taken safely to your hotel in Jerusalem or Bethlehem for an overnight stay.
Christmas Day kicks off with a brief tour of Bethlehem and some of the top site which could include the Church of the Nativity. The ancient church holds the actual grotto where Christ was born and part of the original 4th century churchâ€™s mosaic floor. The church also holds an altar to the Three Wise Men and precious liturgical artwork. Other sites in Bethlehem include the Milk Grotto where Mary nursed baby Jesus and a few spilt drops of milk turned the grotto walls white. As we leave Bethlehem there is Shepherdsâ€™ Fieldsâ€™ where the Biblical shepherds saw the Star of Nativity. Today it is the site of fascinating churches.
We drive back into Israel and to the picturesque village of Ein Karem. John the Baptist is said to have been born here and for this reason many monasteries and churches have been built in Ein Kerem over the years. The Bible also tells of the Virgin Mary traveling to Ein Kerem to visit her cousin Elizabeth, wife of Zachariah and mother to John the Baptist. Today the village has many small cafes in historic stone houses, artistsâ€™ galleries and religious sites. One of Ein Keremâ€™s famous landmarks is the 19th century Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist which was built on the remains of Byzantine and Crusader churches. Inside are the original churchâ€™s mosaic floor and the grotto where John the Baptist is said to have been born. There is a second Church of St. John in Ein Kerem which belongs to the Eastern Orthodox Church and was built in 1894 on the remains of an earlier church. Another interesting site in Ein Kerem is Maryâ€™s Well or Miriamâ€™s Well which gave the village its name (Ein â€“ spring, Kerem â€“ vineyard). The spring provided the Biblical village with water and it was here that Mary stopped to drink on her visit to Ein Kerem. At the end of our visit to Ein Kerem the tour makes its way back to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Herzliya.