Published: 00:00 GMT Standard Time - Friday 25 December 2009
Christmas in Bethlehem
Project(s): 65-377, 65-420
Country/Region: Holy Land
|“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” Luke 2:14|
Christmas in Christ’s birthplace has special significance for Christians all over the world. This small but extremely important town is ablaze with flags and decorations at Christmas time each year. Although the usual Western Christmas customs (such as singing carols, exchanging gifts and visiting family and friends) are observed in Bethlehem, there are many traditions that are special to Bethlehem and the Holy Land. Christmas celebrations involve multiple church services and processions through Manger Square; festivities often last all night long.
On Christmas Eve, thousands of visiting pilgrims and Bethlehem residents gather on the steps of the Church of the Nativity to watch the dramatic annual procession, which is led by galloping horsemen and mounted police, followed by a solitary horseman riding a coalblack steed and carrying a cross. Church ministers and government officials also join the procession and enter the church for a special Christmas service. Christian homes in Bethlehem are marked by a cross painted over the door at this time of year and each home displays a homemade crib scene. A star is placed on a pole in the village square. Many onlookers also go into the fields where the shepherds first heard the good news of Jesus’ birth.
To celebrate Christmas, families dine on turkey spiced with pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg and stuffed with rice, meat, pine nuts and almonds. Olives, chickpeas, falafel and humus (chick pea paste) play a signifi cant role in the local cuisine, along with a popular East European meat stew called cholent, which also contains potatoes, barley and beans.
In the 1950s, 90% of Bethlehem’s population were Christian. Today, the Christian population is estimated at only 30%. Despite declining fi gures, thousands gathered in Manger Square in 2008 to celebrate Christmas in Jesus’ traditional birthplace. This was thought to be the merriest Christmas in Bethlehem since 2000, when the second intifada (uprising) began and since when life has been extra hard for Christians there. Tourists have stayed away and many Christians have lost their jobs, which were connected with the tourist trade. The square was bustling with families and revellers launched pink fi reworks from rooftops. At the Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem, a prominent church leader addressed the crowds and said “true security comes from God. Peace is a gift from God and only He can give peace.”
Barnabas Aid supports a school in Bethlehem, which currently enables 140 children from Christian families to get a Christian education, even if they cannot afford to pay anything towards the fees. It also provides work (full-time or part-time) for 17 Christians. The school has an outstanding reputation for its teaching and continues to grow. The head-teacher at the school reports, “Our school is shedding a light of hope for a brighter future, giving love and care, bringing joy and happiness, spreading peace and reconciliation.” We also help to feed some of the neediest Christian families in Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
Barnabas Aid projects include:
Feeding and basic needs of Christians (Ref. 65-377)
Christian school in Bethlehem (Ref. 65-420)
Thank the Lord for His continued blessings on the Christian school in Bethlehem, and pray for protection as the children and teachers continue to grow in their knowledge and love of the Lord Jesus.