OAN’s Abril Elfi
12:36 PM – Saturday, December 23, 2023
Christmas celebrations have been canceled in Bethlehem as conflict between Israel and Hamas continues.
Bethlehem Mayor Hanna Hanania has announced that the city municipality collectively “decided to limit Christmas celebrations to prayers and worship” without the annual spectacle as a “rejection and condemnation of Israeli aggression and the targeting of civilians, women, and children in the Gaza Strip.”
The decision was first announced in a joint letter on November 10th by the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, an interdenominational council of bishops and pastors in charge of churches in the Holy Land.
“Each year during the sacred seasons of Advent and Christmastide, our Christian communities throughout the Holy Land take great delight in their preparations for the commemoration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” the patriarchs wrote in their letter. “In addition to attendance in religious services, these celebrations have normally involved participation in numerous public festivities and the large-scale display of brightly lit and expensive decorations as a means of expressing our joy at the approach and arrival of the Feast of the Nativity.”
“But these are not normal times. Since the start of the War, there has been an atmosphere of sadness and pain. Thousands of innocent civilians, including women and children, have died or suffered serious injuries,” the bishops continued. “Many more grieve over the loss of their homes, their loved ones, or the uncertain fate of those dear to them. Throughout the region, even more have lost their work and are suffering from serious economic challenges. Yet despite our repeated calls for a humanitarian ceasefire and a de-escalation of violence, the war continues.”
The Christian leaders stated that in the midst of more than a month of violence, they have chosen to minimize the glitz and glamor of neighborhood Christmas festivities in order to emphasize the holiday’s spiritual significance.
Reverend Munther Isaac of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem set up his church’s nativity with the infant Jesus in the middle of a pile of rubble inspired by the war.
“I always say we need to de-romanticize Christmas,” Isaac said. “In reality, it’s a story of a baby who was born in the most difficult circumstances and the Roman Empire under occupation, who survived the massacre of children himself when he was born. So the connection was natural to us.”
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