Silent night for Bethlehem as coronavirus keeps pilgrims away

Special Silent night for Bethlehem as coronavirus keeps pilgrims away
A picture shows the Christmas tree outside the Church of the Nativity, in the Palestinian holy city of Bethlehem, on December 23, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 24 December 2020

Silent night for Bethlehem as coronavirus keeps pilgrims away

Silent night for Bethlehem as coronavirus keeps pilgrims away
  • Earlier this month Bethlehem lit the Christmas tree to mark the start of the Christmas holidays

GAZA CITY: Palestinian authorities will continue following the “usual protocol” in their Christmas celebrations, despite the increasing number of people infected with coronavirus in the Palestinian territories.

But the celebrations will not happen in their normal form - in the presence of pilgrims from around the world and Palestinian Christians. Instead they will be limited to a small number of officials and clerics.

Anton Salman is the mayor of Bethlehem, where the largest Christmas celebrations are held. 

He said this year would be different because the city would not witness the regular festivities, despite the decision to go ahead with the religious rituals.

“We cannot cancel all celebrations, but the usual protocol will continue to be followed, but the public's attendance will be limited while following safety and prevention measures,” Salman told Arab News.

Normally there are many celebrations, starting with the lighting of Christmas trees and continuing until religious rites are held in the Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve in addition to other activities, the most important of which is the holding of carols in Manger Square by international and local groups. These performances are canceled this year.

Earlier this month Bethlehem lit the Christmas tree to mark the start of the Christmas holidays, with the participation of Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh via video call.

The tree was lit without public participation or revelers in the square, in compliance with the health measures being followed to tackle COVID-19. Attendance was limited to social media and the presence of a few people and members of the municipality.

“Together we defeated international plans to annex our land and legalize settlements, and we will defeat settlement and occupation, and we presented a message about political steadfastness in the face of the colonial occupation pandemic, and the seizure of our money, and a message on national steadfastness in the face of the disease pandemic,” Shtayyeh said during the ceremony. “The Palestinian has lived the pain of the past, with courage and defiance, living the present, and hoping for a better future surrounded by patience and resistance toward the state, toward a free and full Palestine united with its people.”

This Christmas, Bethlehem is empty of the foreign tourists who used to flock to it and other Palestinian cities throughout the year.

“Last year this square marked Christmas with a solemn celebration, with a distinguished presence, and with official, popular and international participation and today, as we celebrate Christmas, we seek it with hope and optimism,” Salman added. “So we resorted to modern technology and the virtual world to celebrate the lighting of the Christmas tree, hoping that hope and optimism would continue to flutter around Palestine and the world.”

The mayor said there was a commitment to safety standards in order to protect everyone and that the city had chosen a slogan that differed from previous years.

“We wish the light of life for everyone on our level as Palestinians, and the world, to get rid of the pandemic.” 

Other Palestinian cities, Ramallah and Jerusalem, witnessed the lighting of Christmas trees during December in the presence of a limited number of church officials and clerics.

The Palestinian territories have recorded more than 120,000 cases of coronavirus since March, with the first cases being recorded in Bethlehem, while the number of infections has recently increased in West Bank cities.

The Palestinian government imposed strict measures during the past two weeks in West Bank cities to limit the spread of coronavirus, including the comprehensive closure of some cities, the separation of governorates, and the partial closure of official institutions.