For the first time in five years, Bethlehem and its neighboring towns and villages are enjoying vibrant activities and an influx of visitors this Christmas. The city decided this year to hold popular festivities aimed at reviving the popular movement in Bethlehem and to express the joy of this occasion, the birth of Christ.
Bethlehem has been decked out with decorations. The traditional Christmas tree that stands before the Church of the Nativity was lit at the same spot baby Jesus was born over 2000 years ago. The Bethlehem municipality also set up Christmas decorations in Manger Square and all the roads leading to it.
There were also a number of Santa Clauses roaming the streets of the city, with his red suit and white beard, standing on street sides and handing out candy and gifts to children.
There was also noticeable tourist activity in the city’s streets. A number of tourists from various countries were seen strolling along Bethlehem’s streets a day before the celebrations officially began. Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah is scheduled to arrive in Bethlehem today at noon to head midnight mass.
In this regard, Khaled Bandak of the Grand Hotel said the tourist activity this year has seen a noticeable improvement in comparison to recent years, even if it is still less than Bethlehem’s expectations. He hoped the situation will improve and that peace will finally prevail so Bethlehem can truly celebrate this glorious occasion.
Meanwhile, Christmas market activities continued for the fourth day in a row. The market, which is being held by the cultural heritage preservation center with funding from USAID, includes plays and music and has attracted many visitors. The entire area has also seen a visible increase of visitors and passersby. According to George Salem, who recently opened a new supermarket on Nijmeh Road, says he feels his first few days have been very encouraging in terms of people coming to the store.
William Sabat, who opened a restaurant at the Catholic Circle, says work at the restaurant is going well, saying he predicted customers would double in the coming days as long as the political and security situation in the region stabilized.
Boutique owner Afaf Nabhan also said she believed the situation was improving, saying sales from her store during the Christmas season have been "very good."
Nivin Al Sous, who set up a stand at the Christmas market, selling Christmas candles and warm wine says the amount of people who have visited her stand has encouraged her to open a store selling her products.
Bethlehem residents say this Christmas season has been a breath of fresh air in spite of the difficult conditions they are forced to live under. "The Palestinians have gotten used to confronting their grief and their hardships with even more determination and joy," said one resident.
Bethlehem city was alive with the Christmas spirit. The Vienna Hall in the Bethlehem municipality held a celebration on Friday where Santa Clause distributed gifts to hundreds of children.
Jawwal Mobile Phone Company also distributed gifts to children at the Latin Patriarchate School in Beit Jala during one of its celebrations. Beit Sahour also held a number of festivals.
Dar Al Nadwa held a festival for children in Bethlehem including a number of entertainment and music performances. There was also a play presented about the meanings of Christmas and Santa Claus presented the children with Christmas gifts. They then marched from the theater through the Christmas market to the Catholic Circle.
As part of the Christmas festivities, PalMedia opened a press center in Bethlehem to offer press information to journalists and television agencies during the Christmas celebrations, including offering a live feed.