Writer Reflects on Christmas Holidays in Bethlehem

By Arpi Nakashian
Staff Writer

Bethlehem— Where prayers hang on the wind as bullets hits the ground like heavy rain, Christmas time in Bethlehem is filled with many joyful and heartbreaking experiences.

It was easier to travel to Bethlehem on a donkey 2011 years ago rather with a car nowadays.

It’s Christmas, the greatest time of the year.

The infamous holy city of Bethlehem has conflict of all levels—‘Tis the season to be jolly.

What a difference 2011 years make. Christ was born once, yet Bethlehem celebrates three Christmases. The Catholic Christmas on Dec. 25, the Eastern Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7 and the Armenian Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 19—The Armenians in Armenia celebrate it on Jan 6. Now that’s another story.

On Dec. 24, 28 scout troops paraded and played bagpipes, drums, and trumpets. The scouts wore Baden Poul hats and a newer adaptation of it, the Palestinian “keffiyeh,” replacing the traditional scout berets.
The scouts marching through Manger Square together with tumbling Santa Clauses guided the Catholic patriarch of Jerusalem into The Church of the Nativity where Jesus was born.
Hundreds of tourists, pilgrims and locals together with the clergy entered the church on Dec. 24 through the gate bowing their heads—the Door of Humility is approximately 4 feet high.

It was during the Ottoman era when the door was reduced to its present height in order to prevent charging horsemen entering the church without reverence.

Yet, nowadays is the process of bowing taking place to show respect and the power of faith or simply not to hit their heads?

The church stands on its ancient pillars, filled with incense that carry prayers of the faithful to the sky. The scent of humidity and the odor of the ancient stones create an unforgettable atmosphere. But, on Dec. 28, the church was filled with flying brooms and angry clergy—witches are coming to town.

Santa, have you lost your way? You may need to update your GPS to inform you about the “separation fence” so that you won’t accidentally bump into it.

You might have heard about this wall that surrounds Bethlehem, a wall that the faithful talk about in their letters you receive. Yes, the visa and the documentations that they ask of you to give them as a present, so that they can go through the wall and visit where Christ was born.
On the other side of the wall on Jan. 6, a group of Santa Clauses gave a remarkable gift to Jesus on his birthday.

In Jaffa, the absence of your spirit, St. Nicholas, resulted in the murder of a well-known Arab Orthodox in Jaffa’s Christian community. The stabber was disguised as Santa Claus while committing the crime.
Santa, no need to use red colored cloth to sew your suit, blood has already taken care of that.

Where is the love?

On Jan. 6, it was the turn of the Assyrian, Copt and Greek Orthodox clergymen and their congregation to celebrate Christmas and the Holy Mass in the Church of the Nativity where Jesus’s wooden crib was placed 2 millenniums ago.

The stable was heated by the breath of the animals at the time, yet nowadays the candles lit by the faithful keep the birthplace of Christ warm throughout the year. Thus it is silent night, holy night, every night.

Are all the Christmas songs filled with sarcasm? For I know that Bethlehem has not slept for a very long time. Are the candles at the Manger too bright or the sounds of the bullets too loud?
As an Armenian Orthodox Christian waiting to light my own candle on Jan. 19, I’m dreaming of a peaceful Christmas, just like the ones I used to know in The Kigndom of Heaven.