6 Reasons Christmas is Special in Bethlehem
I was born and raised in Bethlehem and I have never missed a Christmas in this special town. Christmas is dear to me for many different reasons. Despite the fact that we live under an occupation and I see land confiscated from my people regularly, despite the ongoing oppression where we are treated in discriminatory and even sub-human ways, I still have hope.
Here are a few reasons Christmas is special to me.
1. Christmas is special because it reminds us that Jesus came into this world as a sign of hope. As Christians, we know that Jesus can live in our hearts, and give us hope in spite of hopelessness around us, and he can grant us peace even when there is no peace on the political horizon. Our leaders, our families, even our children cannot bring peace to our hearts, but Jesus can, and I celebrate this season every year because he is in my heart.
2. Christmas is special because I live in the greater Bethlehem area. This season is the only time of the year where we see Bethlehem in beautiful colors of light. In the Middle East, lights are signs of celebration. The Old City of Bethlehem sparkles with colored lights and you can’t help but keep walking and enjoying the beautiful renovated buildings as colors and shadows flicker on the walls, and people walk the streets laughing, enjoying the sights. Both Muslim and Christian families love this special time. I know Jesus is the reason for the season, but the decorations can point us in this direction if we allow them to, and the decorations lift people’s spirits and remind us that we have a true Light to rejoice in.
3. Christmas is special because the city comes to life. While Bethlehem is always a beautiful city, all of a sudden, at Christmas, many programs are taking place. There are children’s activities, concerts, bazaars, and more. I wish we had these all year round, as I often wonder what I can do with my kids to get them away from technology to live and enjoy the moment, but at Christmas, it’s easy to do this. We go to the streets and celebrate. Last year they had a Christmas Parade with about 10 trucks decorated with different Christmas themes. Local Bethlehemites coordinated this and did an amazing job, and it was a lovely way to support and celebrate one another’s creativity.
4. Christmas is special because of the wonderful food we make during this time of year. I’m not always good at following instructions, but if I see a new recipe, I’m happy to do exactly as the recipe says to ensure a tasty dish will sit on my table. While you might argue that Christmas foods could be cooked at any time of the year, sometimes people here say that certain dishes should only be eaten on their special holidays, and if you make it at another time, it just doesn’t taste the same. (Muslims also say that Ramadan kataif tastes special specifically on Ramadan.) Food is important because it represents fellowship, and when we cook for a crowd, we expect to gather, laugh and talk. In these moments around the table, all the sorrows from the outside world are not felt. We live in these moments, enjoying them while they last.
5. Christmas is special because it’s a time of year when relationships are renewed. It’s a time of warmth, and love and caring. While it would be wonderful to feel good about our relationships year round, Christmas reminds us how important family and friends are as we gather together to celebrate. It’s a time where we pause to rejoice in the holiday and our togetherness, and we include one another in our joy. I love when my Muslim friends come from other places in Palestine to wish us a happy holiday and celebrate with us. It’s one of the only times we can easily and openly share the story of Christmas, and tell others that Jesus came for all people, not just Christians.
6. Christmas is special because it’s a time of ingathering, when the exiles come home, so to speak. There are many Palestinians who have left the country, including my brothers, who have sought better lives elsewhere. They come home to celebrate Christmas in the place where it happened, and it’s a time of family reunification, a taste of what we hope to see on the political level one day. But for now, we celebrate the small reunions, the fact that our families are together again after long periods apart.
While Christmas can be crowded and irritating for some people, I always keep these 6 special reasons in mind. When my brothers are home they often ask, “How can you stay here?” Christmas reminds me, even if I’ve forgotten, that there is hope for Bethlehem, and the promise of greatness that came from this once small town can come yet again. As I walk the streets of Bethlehem, it’s no longer a town, but a city, yet the words of the song constantly echo in my ears:
“Oh little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark street shineth the everlasting light
The hope and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
To all my fellow bloggers, friends, and readers, I wish you a very merry Christmas from Bethlehem.