Monday, December 24, 2018

Thousands Flock To Bethlehem For Christmas Eve

Thousands flock to Bethlehem for Christmas Eve

Thousands came to Bethlehem on Monday for Christmas Eve celebrations. The blue and white buses leaving Damascus gate in Jerusalem were crowded with pilgrims and tourists. The Palestinian Authority deployed police and security forces throughout Bethlehem to secure the events.

Beginning in the morning, Bethlehem’s preparations for Christmas Eve were set in motion as barricades and checkpoints were put up around the old part of the city leading to Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity. Police sought to route traffic away from the main events as the thousands of local Palestinian Christians who were expected to come began to arrive. Children donned Santa hats and adults dressed in suits as if for Sunday mass. It is one of the major events of the year in the Palestinian Authority controlled areas, and securing it is a central priority.

Christian Scout troops come from across the Palestinian Authority to attend the events. The annual parade begins near the old city and snakes through the streets to Manger square before ending by a shopping center. In dashing red, green, blue and other festive colors, the Christian scouts paraded with their bands, stomping and banging drums as they marched. The procession goes on for hours and the whole of central Bethlehem closes down, with streets cordoned off.

Inside the Church of the Nativity, recently renovated, worshipers stood on line to see the grotto where they believe Jesus was born. New paneling in the church has been revealed in the renovations, showing gleaming golden scenes from the Bible. The floor was opened to show off mosaics from the 4th century. Inside the church Palestinian policewomen patrolled, ambling back and forth as the pilgrims sought place in line. Outside bells tolled as the procession of scouts kept up their clanging march.

The parade went off without a hitch and the tourists and local Christians enjoyed the day. It was a moment of rejoicing and the weather cooperated, with sunshine and intermittent clouds. The biting cold air held off until the evening. In a bar near the old part of town, called the Barrel, men grilled chicken outside and a board offered draft beer. Youth standing nearby flirted and talked.

Congested in the afternoon, the city of around 30,000 came to a halt with bumber to bumber traffic and sirens blared as the PA tried to escort Catholic dignitaries from the Custody of the Holy Land to the Nativity Church. Men wrapped in overcoats stewed in their large fancy vehicles waiting to get through. A man dressed as Santa sitting in a sleigh towed by a car improbably waved to passers by. Without his reindeer he was stuck in traffic like the rest.

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