Christmas in Bethlehem
Bethlehem is the town where Jesus was born (Luke 2:4-7). On a cold winter night, Mary gave birth to the master in a stable formed from a cave dug out of the surrounding rock. That same cave may be seen within the Church of the Nativity, the very spot marked by a star in the now marble floor.
On Christmas Eve, much of the town’s festivities might remind one of what goes on in Europe or the States. Christmas lights can be seen throughout village, there is the annual Christmas market and Christmas plays are performed in schools,
and church halls. The Church of the Nativity is covered with flags and decorations. As you approach the church doorway, you are pressed in on all sides by natives and visitors from all over the world. Even the very roof is covered with spectators awaiting the dramatic annual procession.
Here comes the parade, led by galloping horsemen and mounted police on well groomed Arabian steeds.
Following them, sitting on a dark black mount, is a lone horseman bearing a cross. Now, here come the leaders
of the church accompanied by government officials.
With great solemnity the procession enters the church doors. Once inside they place an ancient effigy of the Holy Child on the church alter. You can now descend down a set of winding stairs to the grotto where the baby Jesus was once laid.
As you approach the very site of the birth you can imagine Mary sitting with her newborn infant in her lap, wrapped in the clothes that she had brought with her from Nazareth, anticipating this very event.
Outside, throughout the city, Christian homes can be identified by a cross painted over the door.
In addition, at each home there is a homemade manger scene. In Manger Square, a large star shines from the top of a pole. There are many services and processions led by various Christian denominations. Included are Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian, Armenian and others. These are all accompanied by processions that pass through the Square opposite the church. Catholic services are held
in St. Catherine’s Church while Protestants often worship
at the Shepherds’ Fields.