Christmas in Bethlehem is nothing short of an extremely joyous and magical occasion. Bethlehem is the ancient town where Jesus Christ was born. Jesus Christ was born on the 25th of December and from then onwards his birthday has been celebrated throughout the times as one of the biggest events in the whole world. Christmas in this historic town is one major festivity that calls for a celebration in the grandest manner.
Bethlehem consists of many Christian denominations like the Protestants, the Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Armenians, Ethiopians and many more. While the Roman Catholics and Protestants celebrate Christmas exactly on 25th December, other denominations like the Syrian and Greek Orthodox celebrate it on the 6th of January and American Christians celebrate it on the 18th of January. Well, now you’ll have one long Christmas Holiday.
Get into Bethlehem: The most common route to Bethlehem is via Jerusalem. The Israeli Checkpoint “Rachel’s crossing” is the direct way into Jerusalem. Tourists can avail bus and car services that traverse this route into Bethlehem. There is also the option to travel on foot through the route.
Roman Catholic and Protestant Celebrations
This long period of celebrations begins with Roman Catholics having their Church Services on the 24th of December which they call Christmas Eve. The Church Services are held in St. Catherine’s Church, which is located near the Orthodox Basilica of the Nativity.
Protestants, on the other hand have a very different way of holding their services. Some attend the special services for Christmas held in the churches in their localities. Others organize and hold special services in the form of excursions out in Shepherd’s Fields or the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Celebrations of Other Denominations
There are some Churches like the Anglican Cathedral of St. George, the YMCA and the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, which organize Christmas celebrations & holiday travels to Bethlehem. This would be a good chance to visit Jesus Christ’s place of birth and, witness the way Christmas is celebrated there. These processions always pass through a site that is believed to be the original place where the Manger was situated, in which Jesus Christ was born, now called Manger Square.
Orthodox Christians take out huge processions and the Basilica of Nativity almost always holds the special services organized by them. Armenians also hold their Christmas services at the Basilica, however, it is always held after the 18th of January.
Christmas Traditions and the Celebrations on Christmas Eve
Christmas may be celebrated a little different in every country of the world. However, its general and basic traditions are always similar. The Christmas traditions and customs in Bethlehem are no different in North America, other European countries and the rest of the world. The town begins its Christmas preparation just a few days before the 25th.
People start decorating the place with flags, ornaments, lights and various other decorations and adornments. The streets are lighted up and look glamorous. A Christmas market is held selling gift items, decorations and almost any and everything in this holiday season.
Christmas plays are organized and wherever you go, you will always see the symbol of the cross painted on doors of Christian households. These households also display scenes depicting the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Christmas Eve processionis the best part of celebrations. A huge procession is carried out on the streets, while the residents as well as tourists flock to the sidelines on the street and swarm the roof of the Basilica to watch the spectacular parade.
The procession is led by galloping horsemen and the mounted police force. The rest includes men riding over black steeds, men carrying crosses, churchmen and government officials. These processions go all the way to the Basilica.
Upon entering the doors of the church, an official places an ancient relic-image of Baby Jesus in the Church. Thereafter visitors are led through a flight of winding stairs going deep down into a grotto where a silver star is seen marking the site of Jesus’s birth.
Christmas Midnight Mass
One of the most eventful highlights of Christmas in Bethlehem is the midnight mass in St. Catherine’s Church. But, if you really want to get a place inside the church, you will have to buy tickets to get a seat.
Generally, the church gives out free tickets, but the vast demand for tickets have led to the formation of a second market where locals sell the tickets they acquire. So, if you don’t hurry to get a free ticket you will end up having to buy them from some local. Although, if not getting a ticket inside doesn’t really bother you, then you can even have a good time enjoying the spirit of the Midnight Mass outside in the crowds gathered at Manger Square.
Accommodations: Getting a hotel or hostel or any kind of lodging facility pre-booked is the best choice. You don’t want to arrive in Bethlehem when almost all hotels have run out of rooms to provide to the waves of tourists and visitors flowing in for the festivities. So, book a hotel room, months in advance if you don’t want to spend your time hotel hunting on Christmas Eve or Christmas day.
Bethlehem’s Christmas Celebrations are fantastic spiritual experiences that will remain etched in your memory throughout your life. The most exciting place to be just before the clock strikes midnight on the 24th is Manger Square, to witness probably the entire town’s residents in one place celebrating one thing- “The Birth of Christ.”