The Christmas season is important to the Christian community in Bethlehem and the Holy Land. In cooperation with various churches and partners, HCEF launched the ‘Bethlehem, Heart of Christmas’ program.
Christmas symbolizes a time of hope and peace for the people of Bethlehem, as well as the broader Palestinian community. The origins of the Christmas story lie in Bethlehem, and thus, the celebration of Christmas represents a window to the world for Palestinians. This occasion marks not just a day of religious and spiritual importance to the Christian community of the Holy Land, but it also a day of national significance, cooperation and unity within the Palestinian and Bethlehem communities, producing a message of peace, reconciliation and togetherness.
Launched in 2010, the Bethlehem, Heart of Christmas program embodies a commitment to cooperation between the private, religious and nonprofit sectors and establishes an important precedent of such partnerships to local, national and international communities. It provides a great opportunity for Palestinians to promote and take pride in their own traditions and unique history, and it represents an important occasion for the Christian Palestinian community to showcase their unity, perseverance, and spirit—locally, nationally and internationally.
Events of the Bethlehem, Heart of Christmas include:
The ‘Most Beautiful Christmas Tree in Palestine’ Contest: This event consists of a large-scale Christmas tree contest among the various parishes and churches throughout the Holy Land. Parishes compete among each other to complete the best Christmas tree! The tree decorating is done by the children of the parishes in an effort to encourage them to participate more in parish activities. The trees are judged by a small, special committee and three parishes are chosen to receive prizes for their efforts. This competition provides a fun and exciting means of cooperation and communication between the various parishes of the Holy Land, but most importantly, it encourages a much needed atmosphere of unity between them.
Reasons to support the Bethlehem, Heart of Christmas Program
- Investment in the spiritual, economic, and social capital of Bethlehem and the larger Palestinian Christian community through the celebration of local Christian culture; investment in local industry to support the campaign; and bridge-building between different communities and sectors in the Holy Land and internationally.
- Promotion of Bethlehem, the Palestinian Territories and the ongoing quest for peace. All of which becomes increasingly important over the Christmas period due to the increased number of pilgrims and tourists visiting Bethlehem, and the general increased attention on Bethlehem. Such promotions are extremely important to Palestinians at the spiritual, cultural and also the national level.
- Celebration of children and their role in not only the festivities of Christmas, but also the hope, peace and joy these festivities symbolize.
- Communication between the various local, national and international Christian communities, as well as increased communication and cooperation between the different sectors involved in the campaign. The ‘beyond borders’ significance of Christmas and the message of peace and community embodied by this campaign will stimulate increased social, cultural and humanitarian communication, vital to the maintenance of a culture of peace and prosperity. This goal becomes increasingly important over the Christmas season because the number of visitors to the city of Bethlehem increases due to holiday tourism.
- Economic development will improve the city’s well-being. Ninety percent of Bethlehem’s economy is dependent on tourism, and Christmas is the most popular time of year for tourists and pilgrims to visit from overseas as well as from within the West Bank. This campaign will play a significant role in increasing the number of visitors to Bethlehem and will directly impact the local economy by supporting the income of local businesses.
- Solidarity between Christian communities through encouraging pilgrimages, the expression of a message of peace and through the shared celebration of the birth of Christ.
- Preservation and celebration of local tradition and culture along through the strengthening of the sense of unity and steadfastness of the Palestinian Christian community.