"Christmas in Bethlehem" Bethlehem by antistar

Bethlehem Travel Guide: 133 reviews and 544 photos

Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem

O 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 streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary,
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth!
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to men on earth.

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is giv'n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heav'n.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him, still
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Immanuel.

I couldn't get this song out of my head while wandering around Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity on Christmas Day.

Bethlehem is considered by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus. It has enormous spiritual and religious significance, and is the destination of Christian pilgrims from all over the world. Today it is in a sad state. The town is almost completely surrounded by an 8 meter high concrete wall. It feels like walking into a prison. This wall has played a part in the destruction of the town's economy, and now nearly two thirds of the population is unemployed. The once thriving trade during the Christmas period has now almost completely dried up. This was once the high point of the year, now it is another symbol of the depressing state of Palestinian affairs.

The other half of the problem was the election of Hamas. Not that Hamas has directly contributed to the economic collapse of the town, but in its refusal to recognise Israel and renounce violence against it, the EU and the US have withheld funding, and the Israeli government has frozen Palestinian tax revenue, which it collects at its borders. Without this money the government has been unable to even pay its police force. Basic functions of the state are not carried out by anyone. The place feels on the verge of anarchy.

Thankfully the Palestinians are, for the most part, friendly towards foreigners, and particularly warm towards those braving the situation to turn up in Bethlehem at Christmas. Though you will likely be overcharged wherever you go, you can kind of forgive that given the economic crisis, and in spite of everything, I wasn't chased by beggars, hawkers or unofficial guides like in countries with similar problems. If it wasn't for the tense political situation, it would have been quite a relaxing place to visit.

Bethlehem has only one major draw, but it's a biggie: The Church of the Nativity.

  • Last visit to Bethlehem: Dec 2006
  • Intro Updated Mar 25, 2007
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Reviews (5)

Comments (4)

  • ettiewyn's Profile Photo
    Sep 5, 2011 at 11:57 PM

    What an interesting page! It must be difficult to write about a place with so many connotations and difficulties attached.

  • gilabrand's Profile Photo
    Aug 2, 2010 at 11:08 PM

    Your account of the siege could use amending: Monks said the militants grabbed stockpiles of food & ate like greedy monsters, guzzled alcohol they found in the priests' cells, tore up Bibles for toilet paper & stole valuable icons.

  • Oana_bic's Profile Photo
    May 5, 2007 at 12:40 PM

    Hey, I know exactly the distinct feeling that u are talking about, also feels in a way so surealistic and out of this world...

  • Apr 9, 2007 at 9:36 AM

    What an incredible experience this trip must have been Tim!


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