Given the conflict that takes place there today, it’s difficult to imagine that Bethlehem was once a calm and welcoming haven for a desperate couple seeking refuge for a woman in labor.
No series on the traditions of Christmas would be complete without a look at Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ. As a now-popular saying goes, Jesus is the reason for the season, for without him, December 25 would simply be another date on the calendar, not Christmas Day.
Christmas in Bethlehem
If you have read the Ornamentshop.com piece on Christmas in Bethlehem, then you know that the city draws tourists all year long, not just during Christmas week. In fact, the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce estimates that about 1.4 tourists visited Bethlehem during 2012. Of this number, 100,000 people were expected during Christmas week to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
“We believe that the economic situation in comparison to previous years is more stable and is improving,” said Samir Hazboun of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce.
Stable? Whether the pun was deliberate or not, tourists are drawn to Manger Square, the plaza outside the Church of the Nativity, which is widely considered to be the oldest church in the world. Against the backdrop of a towering, 50-foot Christmas tree, the square serves as the city’s main gathering place, where people sing hymns and carols to celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem.
Considering the tension and flare-ups of violence between the Israelis and Palestinians, many people are surprised to learn that Christmas in Bethlehem is actually a peaceful and accepting place, just as it was when Joseph and Mary found refuge there in a stable. People of all faiths — Catholics, Protestants, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopians and Armenians, among them –celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ side by side, without the rancor and distrust that so defines the West Bank today.
If you haven’t done so already, read about Christmas in Bethlehem and learn why a star of hope and promise continues to illuminate this historical city.