Only meters away from where baby Jesus is said to be born, thousands of people made their way to Manger Square and gathered around the gigantic Christmas tree, to welcome in the holiest month of the Christian year – December.

Locals and foreigners, wrapped up in their coats and beanies, listened to speeches from the likes of the Mayor of Bethlehem and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, with many others, including top officials from the Catholic church, such as Father Francesco Patton. Leading up to the lighting of the square, there were also musical performances and creative nativity videos.

The square went dark, the countdown started and then the tree was set aglow, along with a sparkling fireworks display, PNN reports.

Video courtesy Ma’an News Agency.

The event was a chance to bring tourists in to the city and also to convey a political message of ‘being and existence’. Manger Square will be lit up and dazzling its visitors for the entire month, as a steadfast message from Prime Minister Hamdallah that, despite Israel’s attempts “to uproot us and strip us from our civilization and history”, Palestinians will continue to shine bright.

Reporting for Ma’an News Agency, Jennifer Janineh further adds that Bethlehem City commenced its Christmas preparations, on Sunday, through its 18th annual Christmas market, taking place in the Manger Square, in front of the Nativity Church.

The Christmas market consisted of a total of 45 booths, selling cookies, cakes, children’s toys, books, hand-made jewelry, clothing items, Christmas decorations, carved olive wood items, mulled wine, beer, and hot chocolate.

Sixteen of the booths were international participants from Switzerland, Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Greece, Russia, Egypt, Poland, Norway, France, Sweden, Hungary, Armenia, and others.
The remaining 29 participants were local organizations and businesses, which included Rewined, Natural Looks, Arab Women’s Union, Francis Cakes, Lions Club, Ghada’s Art, and the Lutheran Church.

During his opening speech, Anton Salman, the Mayor of Bethlehem, welcomed local and international participants and visitors of the annual event, wishing peace and happy holidays to everyone.

Following the opening speech, various international groups from Italy, Norway, Russia, and Spain performed traditional dances and sung Christmas carols. In addition to local Palestinian groups, particularly singer, Milad Fatoula, who sung in the center of the Manger Square.

Dozens of Palestinians and tourists, whether young or old, visited the long-awaited Christmas market,  some to shop Christmas items offered by the brightly decorated wooden booths, while others enjoyed a cup of mulled wine and gingerbread cookies.

Thousands also attended the annual Christmas-tree lighting ceremony, on Saturday night, to mark the start of the Christmas season.

(edited for the IMEMC by c h r i s @ i m e m c . o r g)

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