Photo: Fireworks in Bethlehem (Beata M. Andonia, Travelujah)
Each year, as we approach the joyful atmosphere of the Christmas season, hearing and singing the Christmas carols being played on the radio, in the malls and throughout the stores, we can't help but think of Bethlehem -- the place of Jesus' birth. But ... this year, don't just think of Bethlehem -- BE in Bethlehem! Is there anything better than spending the Christmas season where Christ was born?
Undoubtedly, Bethlehem is singularly important with its historical place in history, and people around the world hold a special place for this small city.
The Three Wise Men came here to the humble manger, to worship the little baby Jesus and give him the precious gifs of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came ..." (Matthew 2:1).
This year, join the people of Bethlehem and share your Christmas holidays with local Christians. Plenty of amazing Christmas attractions and spiritual experiences are waiting for you in Bethlehem where "it all began."
Beginning in November, you can admire the beautiful Christmas lights erected throughout Bethlehem's Old City and of course, more and more decorations will appear over the next few weeks. The season officially begins on the 27th of November -- the day of the Christmas Market prepared by the Peace Center, located on the Manger Square. The market will present a range of Christmas decorations, trees, lights, foods and much more.
Two masses (at 7:30 a.m. and 10 a.m.) will also occur on this same day to celebrate the feast of St. Catherine, the patroness of the Catholic church of the St. Catherine, located just on the site of the Nativity Church.
On the 15th of December, the first day of Novena of Christmas, there will be a solemn lighting of the Christmas tree in front of the Basilica of the Nativity, on the Manger Square. This will be a time of a great celebration followed with singing and numerous fireworks. The Christmas tree of Beit Sahour, famous for its Shepherds' Fields, will be lit on the 17th of December at 4 p.m., next to the Catholic Church.
On the 19th of December, the feast of St. Nickolas (Santa Claus) is going to be celebrated in Beit Jala -- a small city next to Bethlehem, the place where St. Nickolas used to live for some period of his life. The holiday is going to be accompanied by a parade of local scouts -- a very special site.
Several Christmas concerts will commence during that time. There is an annual tradition of a carol choir singing on the Manger Square on Christmas Eve. This year, the Evangelical-Lutheran Christmas Church will host a series of short Christmas concerts each hour, beginning from 7 p.m. There is also something for the less conventional visitors -- the Rock to Bethlehem concert, presenting international rock music on Saturday 16th of November on the Manger Square.
Every year on the 24th of December at 1 p.m. there is a ceremonial welcoming of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. The great festive scout parade of scouts marches through the Star Street -- the way Mary and Joseph and later the Wise Men arrived to the Nativity Grotto located inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
A very special experience is the annual midnight mass in the Basilica of the Nativity on Christmas Eve (24th of December). The mass symbolizes the act of waiting for the miracle of Christ's birth. People gather in the church to pray and spend this great moment together. Due to the overwhelming popularity of the event, only visitors who've received a special entrance ticket will be allowed to enter the midnight mass at the church.
In addition there is a Christmas mass on 25th of December inside the Saint Catherine Church, adjacent to the Church of the Nativity.
Bethlehem is inhabited by Christians of many different denominations which follow different calendars as well. Christmas day is celebrated in Bethlehem a couple of times -- Catholic and Protestant denominations will celebrate the holiday on the 25th of December; Armenians will celebrate on the 6th of January; while Orthodox Christmas falls on the 7th of January.
Beata M. Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.
Travelujah is the leading Christian social network focused on connecting Christians to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.
Publication date: November 29, 2011