Christmas celebrations are called off in Bethlehem

With the war raging in Gaza and estimates of over 20,000 Palestinians dead, the Bethlehem municipality called off all Christmas celebrations, with only a church prayer allowed to commemorate it; 'Bethlehem's message is one of sadness, anger and complete rejection of aggression,' said the city's mayor

It's Christmas eve, possibly the most prominent holiday in the Christian religion, and homes all around the world will be showcasing their Christmas trees while kids will soon be opening the presents left there by Santa, but in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, no one will be celebrating.
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The Palestinian city has decided to scrap the celebrations, preferring instead to mourn Palestinians killed in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. While prayers in churches are still allowed, there will be no Christmas festivities to speak of, and no decorations for the Church of the Nativity. Similarly, tourists will not be making the customary pilgrimage this year either.
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Mourning the death of Palestinians in lieu of celebrating Christmas
(Photo: HAZEM BADER / AFP)
In light of the over 20,000 Palestinians that Hamas says have been killed since October 7, Catholic churches in Bethlehem have canceled all celebrations. The Church of the Nativity square will host patriarch Pierbattista Pizaballa, but the customary Christmas tree will not be displayed, instead replaced by an exhibit called "Christmas Beneath Ruins," symbolizing the vast destruction within the Gaza enclave.
"This year, Christmas comes at a time when our Palestinian brothers are suffering from the oppression of the occupation. Bethlehem's message is one of sadness, anger and complete rejection of aggression toward the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian people," said the mayor of Bethlehem, Hanna Hanania.
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Palestinian flag in Bethlehem
(Photo: HAZEM BADER / AFP)
The priest of the Latin Community, Father Rami Askaria called for prayers for peace. "These are difficult circumstances we live in, so the Bishop Council has decided to avoid Christmas festivities this year, instead focusing on prayers for peace. Bethlehem is now a sadder place with many losing their livelihood, thus it is incumbent upon us to pray," he said.
Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, has expressed hope that Christmas will bring about the end of the conflict both in Gaza and the West Bank. "The dawn of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital is right around the corner," he said in his Christmas speech.
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In front of the local church
(Photo: Maja Hitij/Getty Image)
He further added that "the river of blood, the victims, the suffering and the heroic resilience of the Palestinian people on its land is the path for freedom and honor. The Palestinian struggle for self determination and the legitimate right to live on Palestinian land will go on. I wish a speedy recovery to the wounded and freedom for the imprisoned, may they safeguard our people in the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem and abroad, and may we achieve freedom, independence and honor in our homeland, Palestine."
Unwilling to settle for merely canceling festivities, Christians have made contact with religious and judicial authorities worldwide, emphasizing the need to act for a cease-fire in Gaza. In late November, a Bethlehem delegation visited Washington D.C. to convey that message to President U.S. Joe Biden, in light of his support for the Israeli offensive.
Evacuees in place of tourists: Nazareth's sad Christmas
(Asaf Kamar)

According to estimates, some 8,000 Christian Palestinians live in Jerusalem. Church heads have made a visit to Israel's President Isaac Herzog, a visit widely condemned by Palestinians. Moreover, the Greek-Catholic council in Ramallah clarified that the visit to the Israeli president was not their doing and they have no relationship to those who initiated it.
In preparation for Christmas, two parades are held annually in Jerusalem. One takes place alongside the lighting of the Christmas tree and the other takes place on the morning of December 24.
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בית לחם
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Lighting in front of the church
(Photo: HAZEM BADER / AFP)
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תמונות של תפילות חג המולד בבית לחם
תמונות של תפילות חג המולד בבית לחם
Mourning the dead in Gaza
(Photo: Bethlehem Municipality)
Leader of the Arab-Catholic Scouts, Elias Habbash, has told Al-Jazeera his group was not granted the permits required to hold Christmas festivities, for the first time in a long while. "Every year, this is the time where we practice everyday for hours for the parade, but not this year. It doesn't hurt us as much as it hurts the community and the location," he said.
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