The strands of lights are falling down one after another, forming a kind of curtain of threads in front of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Following the municipality’s decision to suspend Christmas events and remove decorations, workers are busy dismantling the light canopy on Nativity Square and at other locations in the city.
Outgoing mayor Hanna Hanania told CNA: “Bethlehem, as any other Palestinian city, is mourning and sad… We cannot celebrate while we are in this situation.” Following the approach already taken by the Christian churches in the Holy Land, Hanania said they are going to focus on prayer. “We’ll pray for God to have peace in the land of peace.”
In a statement dated Nov.10 — issued after terrorist attacks on Oct. 7 by Hamas in Israel followed by a declaration of war by Israel, all of which has left thousands dead — the patriarchs and leaders of the churches in Jerusalem have urged the faithful “to stand strong with those facing such afflictions by this year foregoing any unnecessarily festive activities” and “focus more on the spiritual meaning of Christmas, holding in our thoughts our brothers and sisters affected by this war and its consequences, and with fervent prayers for a just and lasting peace for our beloved Holy Land.”
However, the Status Quo, a set of rules that has regulated access to and use of the main holy sites since the time of the Ottoman Empire, will still be respected. According to those stipulations, on the eve of Advent, the custos of the Holy Land will make his solemn entrance into Bethlehem. The same will be done on Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, by the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem. This tradition will therefore continue, but the procession along Star Street, the route that tradition says was taken by the Magi, will take place without music and with a reduced presence of the Terra Sancta Scout Troops, boys and girls who typically participate in the procession.
Christmas is just a month away and Lina, a Christian woman from Bethlehem, told CNA that while Christian families in Bethlehem usually begin to prepare for the celebration of Christmas now, and are used to seeing many pilgrims, this year is different. “Bethlehem is so sad,” she said.