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Bethlehem celebrates muted Christmas with few pilgrims to bring cheer -Breaking


© Reuters. At Christmas, the worshipers gather at Saint Catherine’s Church (Church of the Nativity), Bethlehem, Israeli-occupied West Bank. December 25, 2021. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma


By Stephen Farrell

BETHLEHEM, Reuters – On Christmas Day under gray skies, the bells of Bethlehem rang across streets whose shutters had been closed by pastels or greens. It was like someone opened an Advent Calendar.

In the Palestinian capital, hotel and shop owners reported lower sales than in years prior to coronavirus closings that hampered the flow of foreign wealthy tourists. The closures had ravaged the local economy.

Manger Square was filled with hundreds of Christians, mostly from Israel, who gathered around the crib and tree to share carols, and cheer up the crowd outside the Church of the Nativity.

Joseph Giacaman of a family that has been selling souvenirs in the Square for over a century said his business is only 2% of what it was pre-pandemic. “We were closed until three weeks ago. There have been two to three olive wood cribs that I sold. In normal years, we’d sell three or four each day throughout the year,” he said.

It was almost empty in the back streets.

Star Street, which had been renovated over the years to attract crowds of people, was destroyed by the Omicron version in November. Israel started closing its borders.


Anton Salman of Bethlehem, who was mayor at the time, tried to lift morale earlier in December by walking down cobbled street nightly, greeting those selling olive wood carvings and mulled wine. The opening of the market could not sustain its momentum as there were no foreign coaches parties to buy to.

Across town, Bethlehem’s grandest hotel, the Jacir Palace, lay closed and padlocked.

And in the nearby Nativity Hotel, receptionist Victor Zeidan said he was doing a 12-hour shift at lower pay to get a rare day’s work checking in Palestinian Christian and Filipino care workers who briefly boosted occupancy.

He said, “I haven’t celebrated this year. I didn’t get any work before so I am now taking the chance.”

Jerise Qumsieh from the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities told Reuters this year had been better than the previous because of domestic tourists compared to the stricter regulations of 2020. However, foreign tourism was still “zero.”

Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem, called for a reduced mass at midnight to find hope.

“In times of long-term political and medical emergency many voices can be heard in families. Some weaken confidence, take away hopes, extinguish love, while others are encouraging,” he stated.

We need to search for the voice that will lead us to Jesus Christ and salvation. This opens our hearts to hope.

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