The Holy Land Cans Christmas Festivities

With a war raging, church leaders in Jerusalem, Bethlehem say it's no time to celebrate
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 16, 2023 8:39 AM CST
It'll Be a Gray Christmas in the Holy Land
Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa, center, leads the Christmas morning Mass at the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Sunday, Dec. 25, 2022.   (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Each year around Christmas, a tree is set up, lights are strung, and a nativity scene is arranged in Bethlehem's Manger Square, home of the 6th-century Church of the Nativity, which is said to mark the spot where Jesus Christ was born. There will be none of that this year. The West Bank city of about 30,000 has canceled its annual Christmas display, which attracts Christian pilgrims from around the world, "in honor of the martyrs and in solidarity with our people in Gaza," according to a Tuesday statement. Bethlehem Municipality said there would be a Christmas "mass and prayers" but "no tree or lighting installed in any part of the city," per the Telegraph. A rep added "all festive appearances" would be removed.

"It is not appropriate at all to have such festivities while there is a massacre happening in Gaza and attacks in the West Bank," the spokesperson tells the Telegraph. "People are not really into any celebration, they are sad, angry, and upset. Our people in Gaza are being massacred and killed in cold blood." The city is highly dependent on tourism, though there are few tourists to be found now across the war-torn region. In addition to the thousands killed in Gaza, more than 180 lives have been lost in clashes between Jewish settlers, the Israeli military, and Palestinians in the West Bank, the Telegraph reports. Amid the grief, only religious ceremonies will be permitted in Bethlehem, per Voice of America.

The announcement comes days after the leaders of Christian churches in Jerusalem, six miles to the north, requested that their congregations forgo festivities "during the sacred seasons of Advent and Christmastide." "Despite our repeated calls for a humanitarian ceasefire and a de-escalation of violence, the war continues," they said, per the Catholic Herald, asking worshippers to "stand strong with those facing such afflictions by this year foregoing any unnecessarily festive activities." They also encouraged "our priests and the faithful to focus more on the spiritual meaning of Christmas." By praying, advocating, and donating to relief efforts, "we will be standing in support of those continuing to suffer," they said. (More Bethlehem stories.)

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