Christmas 2021: How pandemic has affected celebrations in Bethlehem

Visitors pose for pictures with the Christmas tree in Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity, revered as the site of Jesus Christ’s birth, ahead of Christmas in the biblical city of Bethlehem. AFP

As Christmas preparations begin across the world, the city of Bethlehem – also believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ – gears up for season’s festivities ahead of 25 December.

As per DW, Palestinian Scouts and their bands add colour to Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem. Traditional parade of Scout troops, led by bagpipe players, marching towards the Manger Square takes place during the merry-making festival.

The groups perform Christmas carols and ‘Jingle Bells’ song, with the festivities running throughout the day. At night, a traditional midnight Mass is organised at the Church of the Nativity.

While the whole city of Bethlehem would come to life during Christmas, the COVID-19 pandemic has made Christmas a solemn affair in the biblical city.

Meanwhile, Israel has tightened travelling rules in view of Omicron, the new variant of COVID-19 , restricting tourists to enter the country.

According to a report by the Indian Express, many shops and hotels in Bethlehem will remain shut this year due to lack of tourists, low business and revenue.

Locals have faced a tough time in earning as the tourism-dependent city has done very low business since the past two years due to the global pandemic. As per Israel’s Interior Ministry, around 30,000 tourists entered the country in the first half of November, as compared to the 421,000 tourists that came in November 2019. The Church of the Nativity which would generally be mobbed by tourists, will also remain quite empty this year.

The Holy City hopes that residents of east Jerusalem and Arab citizens of Israel might replace tourists and all those who were forced to remain in the country due to coronavirus restrictions might come to Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas.

Since most Christians work in the tourist sector, many do not have money to even celebrate Christmas and are also afraid of going out due to the virus.

As reported by the Jerusalem Post, many families celebrated a low-key Christmas last year, without the traditional tree and many other festive essentials.

This year, families say they will have to go through the same as 80 percent of their income depends on tourism and the virus has deprived most of them from enjoying Christmas.

Director of Marketing at the Palestinian Tourism Ministry, Majed Ishaq said that the Ministry was launching a campaign in order to encourage Palestinians to visit Bethlehem in the holidays.

This move may provide some help to the locals in Bethlehem who also hope that those people who usually travel to Europe during Christmas may come to their city this year to celebrate Christmas and give a message of peace, security and coexistence.

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