Easter Sunday in an Arab Town in Israel

The little city of Nazareth sits down inside a deep bowl-shaped area of land in northern Israel approximately midway between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea, southwest of Tiberias. I think it’s one of the most interesting cities in Israel, with its Christian sites and almost 100 percent Arab population. Just last year I was pondering whether people really even celebrate Easter anymore, and I’ve never gotten to spend a Christian holiday in Israel before so I was really happy that Easter arrived here soon after I did. Tiberias, where I’m living, is a city full of Christian sites, but I walk amongst them all the time. So I headed to Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, for Easter.

The picturesque little Arab town of Nazareth, Israel

I’ve read that with its 65,000 Arabs, Nazareth has the largest Arab population in the country. I find this hard to believe, as I’ve spent a lot of time in Jerusalem, which seems to be home to many more than 65,000 Arabs. Perhaps I am wrong. As only 30 percent of Nazareth is Christian, while the rest of its people are Muslim, I thought that the city would be action packed on Easter Sunday. Here, I was definitely wrong. Nazareth was shut up tight. Why? For Easter? For Sunday? This is a majority Muslim town. I don’t know.

Fortunately, I’ve visited Nazareth before, the first time I traveled to Israel in February 2008. What I didn’t see on Easter Sunday, I’ve seen previously. And what I saw on Easter Sunday, I have also seen previously. But this is some pretty interesting stuff.

The Church of the Annunciation is built on the spot where it is believed the angel Gabriel told Jesus’ mother Mary that she would give birth to the son of God. Unbelievably, the church was was closed. On Easter Sunday. A local man told me that it been open earlier that morning for a service. I was so glad I’d already been inside.

Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Israel

Also closed was Nazareth Village, which is run by Christians and always closed on Sundays. I knew this before I headed to Nazareth, but still thought an Easter trip to the city was worth it. This village, through which you can take guided tours, is a recreation of Nazareth in the days of Jesus, with ancient buildings, farm animals roaming around and people in period costumes going about life as it existed thousands of years ago. As my first trip there was in the winter with not much activity in the village, I can see myself returning there someday for more.

A woman making yarn from wool at Nazareth Village

One building actually open on Easter was St. Joseph’s church, which is built on what is believed to be the site of Jesus’ father’s carpentry workshop. As with many, many structures in Israel, it is built over the ruins of older structures, in this case churches. The upstairs is pretty with its stained glass windows but the downstairs is a must-see, with its grottos, or tiny caves, one of which served as Joseph’s workshop.

The lower level of St. Josephs' Church in Nazareth, Israel

Just across the courtyard was a huge church packed with a couple of thousand people for the Easter Sunday service. They must have been Arab, but the priest was definitely not speaking Arabic. I’ll be happy if I ever find out the name of this church, because I tried while there and have since searched on line and can’t come up with it. I think it won’t remain a mystery for long. I didn’t take photos because everyone was dressed to the nines, I was schlepping around in my traveling clothes and snapping a picture would have been absurd.

I did find somewhere open for Easter dinner, though. I stopped at a falafel place downtown and for 10 Shekels got the smallest falafel sandwich – but probably the tastiest – ever. It was still Passover in Israel, a time when you cannot buy products made with leaven. Because Nazareth is a primarily Muslim town, though, my Easter meal, happily, was made with leaven. Hurrah!

Falafel sandwich for Easter dinner in Nazareth, Israel

Whether I make it back to Nazareth or not, I really hope to still be in Israel for Christmas.

8 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Steve says:

    At least you got to visit St. Joseph’s church on Easter. I find it surprising that so many religous sites were closed. I’d imagine they would want to be open for people. It still looks like it was worth visiting Nazareth over the holiday though. And that falafel sandwich looks really good.
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  2. Sabina says:

    Hi, Steve – Yes, very surprising. It was kind of like being back in the U.S. on Easter day. The falafel in that sandwich was very small, but I wish that place was closer because I’d go back.

  3. RyukyuMike says:

    Interesting. We have to find you a “schlepping around in travel clothes” spy camera. You made me want to see more !

  4. Sabina says:

    Ha – it is not a pretty sight, Mike.

  5. Gray says:

    What a good idea to spend Easter there! I have to confess, I really don’t celebrate Easter any more. I probably would if I had kids, but since I don’t, there’s really no point. I’m not particularly religious.
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  6. Sabina says:

    I was going to go to Jerusalem, but it just wasn’t happening. I wanted to do something special and Nazareth is a pretty short hop, so I decided that was the best place. I just wish places had been open!

  7. Claire says:

    THat is really weird everything was shut up tight-did you ever figure out why?
    Claire recently posted..A Sweet Summer AdventureMy Profile

  8. Sabina says:

    Hi, Claire. No. I don’t know. Maybe a lot of the businesses, particularly in the area I was in, are owned by Christians. It’s still a mystery.

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