A somber Christmas Eve in Bethlehem as festivities are canceled due to Israel-Hamas war
Bethlehem, the biblical birthplace of Jesus, usually bustling with Christmas celebrations, was eerily quiet on December 24 due to the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. As a result, the usual festive lights and Christmas tree in Manger Square were missing, with few foreign tourists and youth marching bands present.
The cancellation of Christmas festivities also had a devastating impact on the town’s economy, as tourism comprises an estimated 70% of Bethlehem’s income, especially during the Christmas season. With many major airlines canceling flights to Israel, there were very few visitors, causing over 70 hotels in Bethlehem to close and leaving thousands unemployed.
The grim situation was reflected in the subdued atmosphere of the town, with only a few gift shops and restaurants open, and minimal foot traffic in Manger Square. Despite this, a small group of teenagers tried to offer inflatable Santas for sale, but there were no takers.
Bethlehem’s Christmas celebrations, usually a time of joy and festivity, were replaced by somber candle-lit hymns and prayers for peace in Gaza. Palestinian Christians held a vigil with a nativity scene that depicted a baby Jesus wrapped in a white shroud, symbolizing the thousands of children killed in the fighting in Gaza. The scene was surrounded by razor wire and rubble, a stark contrast to the usual colorful and vibrant decor of the square during the Christmas season.
The cancellation of festivities also had a ripple effect on the local businesses, with many struggling due to the lack of customers. Some, like the Giacaman family, first opened their store, “Il Bambino,” since the war began, with no tourists and few local customers spending money as many who worked in Israel were unable to leave the territory.
The sobering impact of the war on Gaza was visible in the messages displayed by the young scouts and students in Manger Square, with banners calling for a cease-fire and a massive Palestinian flag being unfurled.
Bethlehem’s mayor, Hana Haniyeh, spoke of the message of the town on Christmas being one of sadness, grief, and anger, in contrast to the usual message of peace and love. She called upon the international community to take note of the devastation and suffering in Gaza, with over 20,000 Palestinians killed and more than 50,000 wounded during the war.
Despite the bleak circumstances, there was a glimmer of resilience as some businesses and individuals tried to create a sense of normalcy, opening their doors on Christmas Eve and carrying on with their traditions. However, the absence of the usual festivities and the impact of the war were undeniably felt throughout the town.