Amid lockdown Bethlehem authorities say ‘Christmas will not be cancelled’
BETHLEHEM (WEST BANK) – With all hotels now shuttered because of the lockdown, Bethlehem is bracing for a dismal Christmas.
A year ago, the town was bustling with activity in the wake of the drop in violence and a spurt in the number of pilgrims and tourists. It saw its busiest Christmas season in two decades.
Despite the lockdown, leaders of the town have said the celebrations will go on in the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ as the eyes of the world are on it this time of the year.
“Bethlehem is going to celebrate Christmas. And Christmas will not be cancelled,” said Mayor Anton Salman. Workers are putting up a huge Christmas tree in Manger Square, which will be the cynosure of all eyes.
“This Christmas from Bethlehem there will be a message of hope to the whole world, that the world will recover from this pandemic.”
The new Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, said on Monday that preparations for Christmas have already begun.
Father Francesco Patton, a Franciscan friar who is the Custodian of the Holy Land, kickstarted the seasonal celebrations on Saturday and he presided over Mass in the Church of the Nativity which had hardly any believers attending.
“This Christmas will be less festive than usual as there will be restrictions, I suppose like any other part of the world,” Pizzaballa told a Catholic news service.
“Maybe the civil law will forbid us to celebrate as we want; the pandemic will impose restrictions, but none will stop us from expressing the true meaning of Christmas which is to make an act of love.”
Palestinian Authority’s tourism minister Rula Maayah said this year has been challenging after the record flow of tourists in 2018 and 2019.
The Manger Square, where crowds throng during Christmas season, is almost deserted with just a trickle of people. Shops have been shuttered.
The souvenir shop of Michael Canawati in Nativity Street is quite popular with tourist coaches that would typically buy key chains engraved with images of Jesus or intricately carved Nativity scenes made from Palestinian olive wood.
However, his shop has been closed for weeks and he is struggling to find funds to pay his staff. He was also forced to permanently close his shop in Jerusalem.
“We are at a dead end. The shop is full of merchandise,” he said. “The whole world is in the same problem that we are in. We put some promotions (online) for Christmas…and still nothing,” Canawati said.
Elias al-Arja, chairman of the Arab Hotel Association, said the town and the world faced the same problem.