This year, Christmas in Bethlehem will be a private, not public, affair
Christians elsewhere in Mideast also have scaled back their plans for the holiday
The small city of Bethlehem in occupied Palestine relies on tourism as the largest component of its economy and has faced the absence of tourists before because of war, unrest and the covid pandemic. But this year is the first time in modern days that Bethlehem will mark the Christmas season without public trappings of the season, including a decorated Christmas tree in Manger Square.
The Christmas celebrations in the city traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus aren’t just for visitors, as Bethlehem has a significant Christian minority. As it used to have a Christian majority, the city has for many years celebrated the Christmas season, which is longer than in most other parts of the world because it includes both Dec. 25, when Catholics and nearly all Protestants observe the birth of Christ, and Jan. 7, which Orthodox Christians designate as the birth day according to the Julian calendar.
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But this year there will be no lights on the tree, and there will be no choirs singing Christmas carols to tourists and residents alike in the city center. The suspension of festivities has been endorsed both by Bethlehem’s Christians as well as the local government dominated by the Muslim majority.
Bethlehem’s Christians, who are mostly Palestinians, will still be holding seasonal observances in their churches and homes.
“The reason is the general situation in Palestine; people are not really into any celebration, they are sad, angry and upset; our people in Gaza are being massacred and killed in cold blood,” a spokesperson for the city government told The Telegraph, a British news site. “Therefore, it is not appropriate at all to have such festivities while there is a massacre happening in Gaza and attacks in the West Bank.”
The downplaying of Christmas in the Mideast isn’t limited to Bethlehem, as Christian leaders in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the region outside Israel have joined the call for limiting celebrations. The most recent decision to limit Christmas festivities came from the Jordanian Council of Churches, which has a close relationship with several evangelical denominations in the United States. The group posted on Facebook:
The Christmas holidays, when we remember the birth of our savior Jesus Christ, comes upon us while we are in the midst of a human tragedy that is ravaging our region. In obedience to the Holy Word of God and in line with the position of the Jordanian Christian component and the Jordanian public, the Jordanian Evangelical Council of Churches has decided to limit the celebrations of Christmas to religious ceremonies and church prayers within our churches.