Christmas for 2.38 Billion Christians is Officially Cancelled
The Birth of Jesus Would be Under the Rubbles
The birthplace of Jesus is in Bethlehem, Palestine. 2.38 billion Christians in the world respect this little town as the birthplace of Jesus Christ and as a holy place. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations for Christian pilgrims, tourists, and history enthusiasts.
If Christ was born today, he would be born under the rubble, which is the reason Christian churches in this town are now officially canceling Christmas in Bethlehem, and indirectly for Christians around the globe.
No Christmas Trees in Bethlehem
Bethlehem will not have a Christmas tree this year due to scaled-down celebrations at the traditional birthplace of Jesus. This was announced a little more than a week ago.
At that time plans for the festivities in Bethlehem were expected to be modest and without extravagant decorations, and were supposed to take place amidst the backdrop of the ongoing Gaza war.
Bethlehem, a town adjacent to Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank, has experienced the impact of Israeli-Palestinian clashes from previous years. However, the present conflict in the Gaza Strip, located approximately 50 km (30 miles) away, has particularly captivated numerous residents.
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Every street and building in Bethlehem has a story to tell. Bethlehem boasts a compendium of religious, cultural, historic, and heritage sites that move the spirit and stimulate the mind.
The Church of the Nativity is complex encompassing many structures including the 7th Century Basilica, Saint Catherine’s Church, monasteries and chapels that represent the different Christian denominations including the Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches, and the caves of Saint Jerome, the fourth-century monk who translated the Gospels to the vulgate (Latin).
The little Palestinian town of Beit Sahour, which translates into “the house of those who keep the night watch,” is generally identified by the Shepherds’ Field. According to tradition, the tidings about the birth of Jesus were proclaimed at night by the angels to a few good shepherds tending their sheep at the Shepherds’ Field.
Inmid the turmoil and war between Israel and Hamas, the Holy Child Program in the West Bank stands out as a model of help for both Christian and Muslim children and their families.
Slightly less than 2 miles from Bethlehem and 6 miles from Jerusalem, the program in Beit Sahour was founded by the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist — who are based 5,613 miles away in Meriden, Connecticut — to help children who suffer from untreated complex mental health issues and experiences of intergenerational trauma. It is the only therapeutic and alternative education program in the West Bank. This program continues to operate under the most impossible circumstances, but Christmas in Bethlehem was officially canceled this month.
If Jesus were born in the present day, his birth would occur amidst destruction and debris. Therefore, all Palestinian churches have decided to forgo Christmas celebrations this year, while a church in Bethlehem expresses its anguish through the medium of iconography.
In religious studies, iconography is often associated with the study of religious symbols and imagery. For example, Christian iconography involves the interpretation of religious symbols and representations in Christian art, such as depictions of saints, biblical scenes, and religious events.
The churches of Palestine have announced the cancellation of all festive Christmas celebrations in an expression of unity with Gaza and rejection of the ongoing aggression against Palestinians, limiting them to masses and prayers.
In Bethlehem, the Lutheran Church decided that its Christmas nativity scene would reflect the reality of children living and being born in Palestine today, placing the symbolic Baby Jesus in a manger of rubble and destruction.
It is a poignant representation of the suffering of Gaza’s children who find themselves buried under what is left of their own homes, victims of relentless Israeli bombardment.
The True Meaning of Christmas has been lost this year.
Church leaders are trying to convey a message reflecting the birth of Christ, the messenger of justice, peace, and dignity for humanity.
Christ was not born among the conquerors or those with military power, a spokesperson said, but in an occupied country, which is what Palestine was 2,000 years ago.
“Bethlehem is sad and broken. We are all in pain about what is happening in Gaza, feeling helpless and overwhelmed by our inability to offer anything.”
Forgetting the Palestinian Christians
Bethlehem Reverend Munther Isaac recently forwarded a letter from the churches in Bethlehem, a city of great religious significance, to the US administration in Washington, DC. The purpose of the letter was to implore US President Biden, who is also a Catholic, the US Congress, and leaders of American churches to embrace Christ’s teachings against injustice and to actively work towards ending the conflict in Gaza.
Isaac emphasized the often overlooked presence of Palestinian Christians in the West and stressed that the ongoing war in Palestine impacts all Palestinians, regardless of their religious affiliation. He called upon the nation to unite and take responsibility for speaking out against the war.
Anton Nassar, the head of Dar Al-Kalima Lutheran School, expressed that Bethlehem is currently experiencing sorrow and suffering, yet remains hopeful. According to him, the depiction of the nativity scene not only portrays the harsh reality of Palestinian lives but also symbolizes hope through the birth of baby Jesus amid ruins, bringing forth a new source of light amidst the anguish.
The Existence of Hope: The Belief in Jesus
Christians in Bethlehem believe in the existence of hope and the hope of the birth of Jesus in the city of peace, the holy city.
The essence of Christmas lies within one’s heart. The referent emphasized the importance of praying and invoking Jesus to be reborn in various aspects of our lives, including our country, churches, and schools. This heartfelt desire is driven by the aspiration to live in a state of peace and stability and fulfill the goal of an independent nation, with Jerusalem as its capital.
Tourism Economics for Bethlehem
Tourism income in Bethlehem can be a significant contributor to the local economy, given the city’s historical and religious standing, particularly for Christian pilgrims.
Leaders in the travel and tourism industry have been silent on the deadly conflict, knowing well that tourism income for Bethlehem is a major economic factor for both Palestine and Israel.
Religious Tourism: Bethlehem is a primary destination for Christian pilgrims who visit the city to explore the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Income is generated through visits to religious sites like the Church of the Nativity, the Milk Grotto, and Shepherd’s Field. Tourists may also attend religious services and purchase religious souvenirs.
Cultural Tourism: Bethlehem has a rich cultural heritage, and tourists often come to experience its unique culture, art, and traditions. This includes income generated from cultural events, exhibitions, and the sale of traditional Palestinian handicrafts such as olive wood carvings, ceramics, and textiles.
Accommodation: Bethlehem offers various types of accommodations, including hotels, guesthouses, and hostels. Income is generated through room bookings, dining services, and related amenities.
Restaurants and Dining: Local restaurants and eateries cater to tourists, offering Palestinian and Middle Eastern cuisine. Income is generated from food and beverage sales.
Transportation: Income is generated through transportation services, including taxis, buses, and private tours that cater to tourists traveling to and within Bethlehem.
Tour Services: Tour operators and guides provide guided tours of Bethlehem and the surrounding area. Income is generated from tour fees and related services.
Souvenir and Gift Shops: Numerous shops in Bethlehem sell religious and cultural souvenirs, including jewelry, clothing, and religious artifacts. Income is generated from the sale of these items.
Events and Festivals: Bethlehem hosts various cultural events and festivals throughout the year, including music festivals and Christmas celebrations. Income is generated from ticket sales, merchandise, and related activities.
Meeting and Conferences (MICE): Bethlehem also attracts business travelers and organizations hosting conferences, meetings, and events. Income is generated from conference facilities, accommodations, and related services.
Hospitality Services: Income can come from various hospitality-related services, including wedding receptions, banquets, and other private events hosted in hotels and venues in Bethlehem.
Travel Agencies: Travel agencies in Bethlehem earn income from organizing and selling tour packages, transportation, and accommodation bookings to tourists and pilgrims.
Online Tourism Services: Income can be generated through online platforms and travel agencies that promote and sell Bethlehem as a tourist destination to a global audience.
The UN will be Uniting For Peace in New York on Tuesday
An emergency UN General Assembly session will take place next Tuesday.
Egypt and Mauritania invoked UN Resolution 377 ‘Uniting for Peace’ to call for an urgent meeting. Such a resolution can be invoked when the Security Council is unable to act.