Jerusalem24 – This Christmas season, something lost after the pandemic first hit the holy city of Bethlehem is finally back two years later.
The tree is lit up, and wonderfully decorated. The streets of the governorate shine bright with lights all the way from Beit Sahour to Beit Jala, and only waiting for one missing element: the white visitor on 24 December.
“The city isn’t only full of lights and decoration,” the head of the Bethlehem Municipality, Hanna Hanania, tells Jerusalem24. “The city is full of joy, and happiness.”
His excitement is palpable. “We started preparing for the season five months ago. Bethlehem accepts the soul of peace, the spirit of peace, the spirit of gathering.”
This year’s slogan is “Christmas spirit gathers us”, which Hanania explains is the message of peace and unity they call for from the birthplace of Jesus.
Bethlehem featured international stars during this year’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony – the first since the pandemic hit Bethlehem in 2020.
“We’re trying to go back to normal after Covid since it largely affected Bethlehem’s community and economic wheel,” says Hanania. “We have several unique activities this year. These days we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Every Christmas season the Bethlehem municipality and the Palestinian security forces collaborate and coordinate to ensure a safe season for the locals and visitors, Hanania adds.
“Now we have an average of 100,000 visitors per month. Last month we hosted 123,000 visitors from all over the world. We’re hopeful the number will go up.”
But challenges and obstacles are another regular visitor before, during, and after the season, Hanania explains. “The big obstacle is always the Israeli occupation. The Bethlehem district is surrounded by 23 illegal settlements – when I say illegal, that’s according to international law.”
“For us, internally we are trying to solve the issue of the traffic jams.”
But not even the occupation – or traffic – can put a damper on this year’s renewed and full-blown celebrations.
Listen to the full interview on Vibes.