Christmas is an important holiday in Bethlehem even though Christians comprised only one third of its population. Located in the West Bank and about 10 kilometers from the outskirts of Jerusalem in Israel, the Christmas festivities are even celebrated by non-Christians. Regardless of their religions, the residents of Bethlehem have been celebrating Christmas since 1995 after Israel handed over the town to Palestinian control.
Picture source: Daily Mail UK
The quiet town of Bethlehem transform to a festive atmosphere during Christmas time. Thousands of pilgrims from all parts of the world come to visit churches and Holy sites. Christian devotees makes this special pilgrimage to be near the origin of the Christian faith at a time when the world is commemorating Jesus’s birth.
The Church of Nativity, the place where Jesus was born, is the center of the Christmas celebration in Bethlehem. During Christmas, the church is filled with multicolored Christmas lights and decorations. Inside the church, the most holy part is the Grotto of Nativity where a silver star marked the site where Jesus was born.
The church service of the Mass of the Nativity held in the Church of the Nativity on Christmas evening and midnight are always crowded and is probably the most notable aspect of Christmas in Bethlehem.
On Christmas eve, a yearly parade takes place witnessed by the local populace and the visitors gathered at the doors of the church and the surrounding area. Leading the procession are policemen and horsemen sitting astride horses. Following them is a lone horse rider mounted on a black stallion bearing a cross, then succeeded by the clergymen and other church leaders and government officers. Bagpipe bands are also participating in the parade.
The Manger Square located just outside the Church of Nativity is bedecked with numerous lights and decorations at night fall. A giant Christmas tree stands in one corner of the square.
During the Christmas season, the doors of Christian houses in Bethlehem are painted with a cross and their homes decorated with their own homemade manger scenery.
On Christmas Day, bands march in the streets playing Christmas songs. There are also choral groups singing Christmas carols, inspiring others to join in the community singing. People dressed in Santa outfits often roams around the square giving sweets and candies to the children. Natives and tourists mingled with each other to enjoy this special holiday.