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Christmas in Bethlehem

The Rev John McCulloch describes Christmas in the town of Jesus’ birth.

A STONE’S throw away from the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square Bethlehem, the artist Banksy has stencilled a mural on a church door entitled ‘Peace on Earth’. The text-based artwork is asterisked with the commonition ‘Terms and conditions apply’.

In occupied Bethlehem, the very place where Christ was born into our world of suff ering, Banksy’s words are a poignant reminder of the political realities here today. Christmas in Bethlehem is a big occasion. In the preceding weeks, lights go up all round the old city, and an imposing Christmas tree is placed in Manger Square, not far from the Church of the Nativity (built on what is believed to be the place where Jesus was born). The smell of falafel, roasted corn on the cob, shawarma and freshly brewed coff ee fills the air, as thousands flock to Manger Square to join in the celebrations. Shops stay open late, and the cafés and restaurants are bustling with pilgrims from near and far, together with local Palestinians. Christmas in Bethlehem is not only celebrated by the dwindling Christian community here. Many Muslims flock to the old quarter to join in the seasonal festivities. Live Christmas music performances on the stage in Manger Square stop during the calls to prayer, out of consideration and respect for a town where the majority is now Muslim. The haunting calls to prayer, echo out of the Mosque of Omar, located just a few hundred metres away from the Church of the Nativity. The Christian community of Bethlehem and its surrounding villages has reduced drastically in size over the 52 years of military occupation, and most markedly after the Separation Wall was built. In the late 1950s, the Christian population stood at around 86%. Today, it is just over 10%, and falling. With the holy sites in Jerusalem now out of bounds, and many unable to access the green farming areas that now lie in Area C on the other side of the Wall, many Christians have decided to leave.

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About Life and Work

CHRISTMAS IN THE HOLY LAND - Tiberias and Bethlehem contrasts DISCIPLESHIP AND ME - Following Jesus around the world 'A REAL HONOUR AND A REAL PRIVILEGE’ - Mark Evans DCS, President of the Diaconate Council much more packed across 60 pages