Why Bethlehem is the best place in the world to celebrate Christmas

Published December 20th, 2015 - 09:11 GMT

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Although a spate of violence has gripped Israel-Palestine in the past three months -- with over 100 Palestinians killed since October 1 -- the West Bank city of Bethlehem is still rolling out a big Christmas celebration this year. The historically Christian city is the site of Jesus’s birth, and has remained a popular destination for Christian pilgrims from the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa and North America over the years, despite the hardships the Israeli occupation has placed on tourism in the West Bank. Here’s how the fabled Palestinian city will celebrate Jesus’s 2015th birthday.

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Although Jesus’s crucifixion (and subsequent resurrection) occurred in Jerusalem, which is currently under Israeli control, legend has it that he was born in Bethlehem, a historically Palestinian city that’s still fully Palestinian.
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Image 1 of 9:  1 / 9Although Jesus’s crucifixion (and subsequent resurrection) occurred in Jerusalem, which is currently under Israeli control, legend has it that he was born in Bethlehem, a historically Palestinian city that’s still fully Palestinian.

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Palestinian Christians, Arab Israeli Christians, and Christian pilgrims from from all over the world visit Bethlehem in December to take part in the celebrations. Every year, about 100,000 visitors come to Bethlehem for the holiday.
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Image 2 of 9:  2 / 9Palestinian Christians, Arab Israeli Christians, and Christian pilgrims from from all over the world visit Bethlehem in December to take part in the celebrations. Every year, about 100,000 visitors come to Bethlehem for the holiday.

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Bethlehem goes all out for Dec. 25. The small city (pop. 25,000) erects a 50-foot Christmas tree in Manger Square, near the Church of the Nativity, where Jesus was born. Holiday cheer gets mixed with a healthy dose of nationalism: the tree is usually lit up with green, red and white lights to match the Palestinian flag.
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Image 3 of 9:  3 / 9Bethlehem goes all out for Dec. 25. The small city (pop. 25,000) erects a 50-foot Christmas tree in Manger Square, near the Church of the Nativity, where Jesus was born. Holiday cheer gets mixed with a healthy dose of nationalism: the tree is usually lit up with green, red and white lights to match the Palestinian flag.

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Santa Clauses hand out candy to children in the Old City, while Manger Square becomes a din of traditional musical performances and folkloric shows. The streets are abuzz with bands playing bagpipes -- a ritual that dates back to the days of the British Mandate (1920-1948), according to Anadolu Agency.
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Image 4 of 9:  4 / 9Santa Clauses hand out candy to children in the Old City, while Manger Square becomes a din of traditional musical performances and folkloric shows. The streets are abuzz with bands playing bagpipes -- a ritual that dates back to the days of the British Mandate (1920-1948), according to Anadolu Agency.

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At midnight, a special mass takes place inside the Church of the Nativity, where Christian tradition says Mary gave birth to baby Jesus.
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Image 5 of 9:  5 / 9At midnight, a special mass takes place inside the Church of the Nativity, where Christian tradition says Mary gave birth to baby Jesus.

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It isn’t just Christians who come to Bethlehem to celebrate -- lots of Palestinian Muslims come, too. Since Israel handed control of Bethlehem to the Palestinian Authority a few days before Christmas in 1995, West Bankers of all religions have made coming to Bethlehem for Christmas a cause to celebrate, according to Haaretz.
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Image 6 of 9:  6 / 9It isn’t just Christians who come to Bethlehem to celebrate -- lots of Palestinian Muslims come, too. Since Israel handed control of Bethlehem to the Palestinian Authority a few days before Christmas in 1995, West Bankers of all religions have made coming to Bethlehem for Christmas a cause to celebrate, according to Haaretz.

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But today, Bethlehem is a very different place than it was when Jesus was born. The city is now surrounded on three sides by a 30-foot tall concrete barrier, which has hurt tourism revenues since the barrier was built in the mid-2000s.
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Image 7 of 9:  7 / 9But today, Bethlehem is a very different place than it was when Jesus was born. The city is now surrounded on three sides by a 30-foot tall concrete barrier, which has hurt tourism revenues since the barrier was built in the mid-2000s.

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What’s more, the city’s Christian population has dissipated since the creation of the state of Israel. In 1948, Christians made up over 80% of Bethlehem’s population. Today, they make up just over 20%.
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Image 8 of 9:  8 / 9What’s more, the city’s Christian population has dissipated since the creation of the state of Israel. In 1948, Christians made up over 80% of Bethlehem’s population. Today, they make up just over 20%.

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Nevertheless, Bethlehem is still decking its halls with boughs of holly this year. Whether Muslim or Christian, the Palestinian spirit remains unbowed.
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Image 9 of 9:  9 / 9Nevertheless, Bethlehem is still decking its halls with boughs of holly this year. Whether Muslim or Christian, the Palestinian spirit remains unbowed.

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1

Although Jesus’s crucifixion (and subsequent resurrection) occurred in Jerusalem, which is currently under Israeli control, legend has it that he was born in Bethlehem, a historically Palestinian city that’s still fully Palestinian.

Image 1 of 9Although Jesus’s crucifixion (and subsequent resurrection) occurred in Jerusalem, which is currently under Israeli control, legend has it that he was born in Bethlehem, a historically Palestinian city that’s still fully Palestinian.

2

Palestinian Christians, Arab Israeli Christians, and Christian pilgrims from from all over the world visit Bethlehem in December to take part in the celebrations. Every year, about 100,000 visitors come to Bethlehem for the holiday.

Image 2 of 9Palestinian Christians, Arab Israeli Christians, and Christian pilgrims from from all over the world visit Bethlehem in December to take part in the celebrations. Every year, about 100,000 visitors come to Bethlehem for the holiday.

3

Bethlehem goes all out for Dec. 25. The small city (pop. 25,000) erects a 50-foot Christmas tree in Manger Square, near the Church of the Nativity, where Jesus was born. Holiday cheer gets mixed with a healthy dose of nationalism: the tree is usually lit up with green, red and white lights to match the Palestinian flag.

Image 3 of 9Bethlehem goes all out for Dec. 25. The small city (pop. 25,000) erects a 50-foot Christmas tree in Manger Square, near the Church of the Nativity, where Jesus was born. Holiday cheer gets mixed with a healthy dose of nationalism: the tree is usually lit up with green, red and white lights to match the Palestinian flag.

4

Santa Clauses hand out candy to children in the Old City, while Manger Square becomes a din of traditional musical performances and folkloric shows. The streets are abuzz with bands playing bagpipes -- a ritual that dates back to the days of the British Mandate (1920-1948), according to Anadolu Agency.

Image 4 of 9Santa Clauses hand out candy to children in the Old City, while Manger Square becomes a din of traditional musical performances and folkloric shows. The streets are abuzz with bands playing bagpipes -- a ritual that dates back to the days of the British Mandate (1920-1948), according to Anadolu Agency.

5

At midnight, a special mass takes place inside the Church of the Nativity, where Christian tradition says Mary gave birth to baby Jesus.

Image 5 of 9At midnight, a special mass takes place inside the Church of the Nativity, where Christian tradition says Mary gave birth to baby Jesus.

6

It isn’t just Christians who come to Bethlehem to celebrate -- lots of Palestinian Muslims come, too. Since Israel handed control of Bethlehem to the Palestinian Authority a few days before Christmas in 1995, West Bankers of all religions have made coming to Bethlehem for Christmas a cause to celebrate, according to Haaretz.

Image 6 of 9It isn’t just Christians who come to Bethlehem to celebrate -- lots of Palestinian Muslims come, too. Since Israel handed control of Bethlehem to the Palestinian Authority a few days before Christmas in 1995, West Bankers of all religions have made coming to Bethlehem for Christmas a cause to celebrate, according to Haaretz.

7

But today, Bethlehem is a very different place than it was when Jesus was born. The city is now surrounded on three sides by a 30-foot tall concrete barrier, which has hurt tourism revenues since the barrier was built in the mid-2000s.

Image 7 of 9But today, Bethlehem is a very different place than it was when Jesus was born. The city is now surrounded on three sides by a 30-foot tall concrete barrier, which has hurt tourism revenues since the barrier was built in the mid-2000s.

8

What’s more, the city’s Christian population has dissipated since the creation of the state of Israel. In 1948, Christians made up over 80% of Bethlehem’s population. Today, they make up just over 20%.

Image 8 of 9What’s more, the city’s Christian population has dissipated since the creation of the state of Israel. In 1948, Christians made up over 80% of Bethlehem’s population. Today, they make up just over 20%.

9

Nevertheless, Bethlehem is still decking its halls with boughs of holly this year. Whether Muslim or Christian, the Palestinian spirit remains unbowed.

Image 9 of 9Nevertheless, Bethlehem is still decking its halls with boughs of holly this year. Whether Muslim or Christian, the Palestinian spirit remains unbowed.

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