The quintessential figure issued holiday greetings to Christians around the world from a hot air balloon against the background of the Old City.
By Erin Viner
A video and still photographs were released by the Nazareth Municipality in cooperation with the Israel Ministry of Tourism. It featured Santa Claus as portrayed by Issa Kassissieh for distribution on social media channel, including local children in the northern city where Jesus spent his childhood. Kassissieh is heard calling out: “Merry Christmas from the Ho! Ho! Holy Land!” as part of his festive message of Christmas cheer and light.
The warm video is part of the annual greetings issued by the Israeli government.
As the level of visitation continues to climb towards pre-pandemic levels, the Israel Ministry of Tourism is offering free shuttles to pilgrims and tourists visiting Bethlehem on Christmas Eve.
Israel is set to welcome about 120,000 worshippers from abroad, reflecting an increase during the Christmas celebration by 20-40%. Only 135,000 pilgrims were able to visit the Holy Land for Christmas week in 2018 and around 150,000 came in 2019 – Israel’s record year for incoming tourism with 4.55 million people who were able to come.
Nearly 50% of all visitors to Israel this year were Christian, totaling 1.2 million since last January, of whom 480,000 identified themselves as ‘pilgrims.’
The number of visitors is part of the continuing recovery trend for incoming tourism. Based on the pace of tourist entries to date, about 2.6 to 2.7 million will have come by year’s end. There is significant and increasing global interest in Israel as an attractive tourist destination that offers a unique mix of religious, historical and cultural sites, excellent climate, a vibrant culinary and entertainment scene, as well as a beautiful landscape.
The Israel Ministry of Tourism is offering special free roundtrip shuttle transportation for those traveling between Jerusalem and Bethlehem for the festivities on Christmas Eve.