The biblical town of Bethlehem expects tens of thousands of visitors during the Christmas Week. This is the first season after two years of pandemic when Christians from around the world are gathering in the West Bank town, revered as the birthplace of Jesus.
“We are celebrating Christmas this year in a very much different way than last year. We’re celebrating Christmas with pilgrims coming from all over the world,” said Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Maayah. There are already no available hotel rooms left in the city, which brings hope to business owners, who reportedly lost $200m during the two years of closures due to Covid pandemic.
Franciscan Father Rami Asakrieh, the Catholic parish priest at the Church of the Nativity, said about this years’ season: “This feast is special. Because of the coronavirus, there were no pilgrims, Christmas was without people, it was only spiritual, without the festivities, without the joy and happiness that we feel in this holy city.”
As per reports Bethlehem tourism hit the record in 2019 with an all-time high of 150,000 visitors during Christmas season, and 3 million visitors overall. This year all 5000 rooms are fully booked, many choosing to stay here as is much cheaper than Jerusalem, the other holy city 10km apart.
In Bethlehem, Christmas is celebrated three times over the year, as there are “the Armenians, the Latins, the Greek Orthodox. Everybody has their own calendar, so this makes the date of Christmas different. We happily celebrate Christmas for a very long period. We talk about two months of celebration,” said Father Rami, cited by DW. The Latins – Roman Catholics, Christians and Protestants are celebrating on 24 and 25 December, while the Greek Orthodox and other Eastern Orthodox churches mark Christmas on January 6 and 7. The last ones to celebrate are the Armenians, on January 18 and 19.