Holyland Cultural Environment

Day-by-day and special days (religion and holidays)

Days and Times of the week

Friday is the Muslim holy day, Saturday is the Jewish holy day, and Sunday is the Christian’s day. It is good to know a shop-keeper's religion and when the store closes. Jews often leave work at noon on Fridays and don’t come back. Muslims sometimes leave work for the Friday prayers and not come back. People take off for religious holidays for several days.

Muslims pray individually five times a day and they respond when the call to prayer is heard. If you are with a Muslim, stop your business and let them pray. On Fridays there is group prayer in mosques at noon. Avoid the area around mosques at that time, especially in the Old City, as it will be mobbed with people. It is safe but crowded. You will note the call to prayer from the mosque even early in the day when “it is better to pray than to sleep”.

Jewish businesses officially close in the late afternoon on Friday and stay closed until sundown on Saturday. They will not answer their phones and some elevators in public buildings are programed to stop at every floor so people do not have to push the buttons. The prohibition on work on Saturday means that buses might not be running in some areas and the Post Office is closed. Sunday is laundry day in Jewish areas, so expect to see it hanging out as you go to church.

Christians hold worship services on Sundays but also on other days. Check with the Christian Information Center (Click Here) as to times. Most churches welcome visitors but some restrict tourism. For instance, the Armenian Cathedral is only open for visitors during the service on Wednesday afternoons. 

Israel, the West Bank and Jordan change from winter to summer time and back on different schedules so around those two times of year, check the schedule carefully so you don’t miss appointments.


The general rule is “if there is a holiday, celebrate it.” Jewish holidays are celebrated by the whole country and determine the yearly schedule the same as the USA bases its yearly schedule largely on Christian holidays. There are also sacred civic holidays that mark Israel’s history, just like our 4th of July, and then there are days like Mother’s Day which is just celebrated on a different day from the Western date for no particular reason.

jewish calendarJewish holidays

Jews use both the solar and the lunar calendar and dates celebrated in Israel are from the Hebrew calendar. Since they are sometimes different from the days celebrated in the USA, the best way to find actual dates in the local calendar is to ask. In Judaism the day begins at sundown so the holiday begins at sundown the evening before the actual date. The dates in 2020  for the USA are listed below to give you the approximate date to ask about.

Rosh Hashanah – Jewish New Year – September 19-20
Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement – September 28
Sukkot – Feast of booths commemorating the wandering in the desert – October 3-4
Simchat Torah – Completion of the annual cycle of Bible readings – October 11
Chanukah – Festival of lights – 9 candles are lit because 1 day of oil lasted 9 days – December 11-18
Tu B’Shevat – Jewish Arbor Day – January 31

Purim - March 10

Shavuot - May 29-30


Purim – Deliverance of Jewish people from Haman (see book of Esther) – children dress up similar to Halloween in the USA – March 1
Yom Ha-Shoah – Holocaust Memorial Day is now a Jewish religious holiday – April 11
Passover (Pesach) – Deliverance of Jewish people from slavery in Egypt – April 9-15
Tish’a B’av – Commemoration of the destruction of the Temple – July 30

Civic holidays

Beware of Street Demonstrations
Beware of Street Demonstrations

Most of the Jewish holidays are considered to be civic holidays. Therefore, offices and stores often close. Independence Day, on May 14, is a civic holiday as well as a religious holiday. The same day is also celebrated as Jerusalem Day marking the time when Israel occupied Jerusalem. There are sometimes big parades with Israeli flags moving through Muslim neighborhoods. Avoid the parades as they sometimes cause protests.  The Palestinians celebrate May 15 as Nakba, the catastrophe in response to the Israeli holiday.

Muslim Holidays

Muslims use a calendar based on lunar months and each year the dates of celebrations are eleven days earlier than the last year. You will be most affected by this if you are there during Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sun up to sun down. Drums, the voice of a muezzin or other sounds will mark a time to wake up and eat breakfast before daybreak. Since Muslims will not eat or drink during the day in Ramadan, it is polite for you to abstain from eating or drinking in public during those same times.

 Eid Lanterns
Eid Lanterns

In Ramadan, the end of the fast will be signaled at sundown and Muslims break the fast by eating dates or a piece of simple candy. If you are in a taxi or a bus at that time, you will be offered something to join with them. Do so, even though you have not been fasting, because it is celebratory food. Muslims join with their families and friends in the evening to eat the Iftar (a lavish meal for those who can afford it). Muslim taxis are hard to find in the late afternoon in Ramadan as drivers are eager to get home and eat the Iftar with their families.

Ma’amoul cookies for holidays
Ma’amoul cookies for holidays


Muslim Greeting
Muslim Greeting During the Eids (Feasts)

The end of Ramadan is the Eid al Fitr, and, if they can afford it, Muslims buy new clothes for the children, give gifts, and visit their families. Another celebration is the Eid al Adha, which marks the end of the Hajj. At both Eids (meaning Feast), lights and lanterns are hung as celebration at the gates in Jerusalem and at other locations in the Muslim world.

Christian holidays are similar to those in the United States, but there are three Christmases and two Easters due to the use of different calendars in the diverse Churches. Many other Christian holidays are celebrated in relation to Christmas and Easter and change accordingly.

A Western Christmas in an Eastern City
A Western Christmas in an Eastern City

Western Christmas is celebrated on December 25. The Orthodox churches observe Christmas on January 6 and the Armenians celebrate it on January 18. In all three religious groups Christmas is primarily celebrated on Christmas Eve with services ending at midnight and sometimes with fireworks.

Western Easter and Eastern Easter are scheduled by different calendars as well, and Jerusalem is crowded when they coincide. It is important to check which calendar a church observes before attending worship during the Lent and Easter season. Some churches (such as the Melkites) use Eastern liturgies but the Western calendar. The celebration of Pentecost and other religious days are usually dependent on the Easter schedule. Saint’s days are an exception and come on specific dates.

Who is afraid of the metric system?

If you haven’t traveled in countries outside the USA or majored in science, you haven’t had to pay much attention to the metric system. But your prescription drugs are measured in that system and many weather reports include Centigrade as well as Fahrenheit. Soda is sold in liter bottles so you have some experience with metric quantity. Actually there are few reasons to learn the metric system when you visit unless you plan to stay for a long time. There are still 24 hours in the day and 7 days in the week, even if they are used in different ways. Conversion tables are available in many books, but here are a few rules of thumb on distance, quantities, and temperature.

A meter is just a little longer than a yard. To measure things, picture a yard stick and remember it is almost as long as a meter. Driving distances are often listed in both miles and kilometers, but just allow a little more time when you read kilometers since a kilometer is shorter than a mile. When you buy something by the kilo, give it the eye to decide how much you want, instead of thinking about the weight.

Weather forecasts and reports are often given in both Celsius and Fahrenheit. But, you know how hot or cold the weather is by feeling it. Some cities, like Bethlehem and Jerusalem, are in the mountains and are surprisingly cold for their latitude. Sometimes it snows in the winter and, it does occasionally rain or snow right on Christmas Eve in Bethlehem.