If you happen to be in Bethlehem in December or January, it is important to note that there are three different Christmas celebrations. They are celebrated on the eve of the date shown below.

  • Western Christmas is on December 25
  • Eastern Orthodox Christmas is on January 6
  • Armenian Christmas is on January 18 in the Holy Land but on January 6 in the United States.

The Patriarch (or other top clergyperson) of each religion comes from Jerusalem by limousine to loud bell ringing and shouting. They used to enter on white horses but limousines are preferred now, though sometimes there is also a white horse. This is regulated by the Status Quo (an agreement between the churches and the government).

Scout Bagpipe Band
Scout Bagpipe Band

Each procession travels along Star Street to Paul IV Street and then to the Church of the Nativity. They are accompanied by Boy Scouts of both Muslim and Christian groups, along with bagpipe bands. 

Manger Square
Manger Square

Local people throng Manger Square which is decorated in Western style with Christmas trees and ornaments and a few Santa Clauses wandering around. Christians sometimes dress their children as nuns, monks, priests, or Santa Claus. Muslims join the celebration since they also honor Jesus and Mary, but sometimes they are confused by the noisy celebration. The weather will probably be cold, rainy and windy since Bethlehem is in the mountains. 

Services are held in the Church of the Nativity with the Catholic service being broadcast around the world on TV. See your local listings in the USA. Attendance for December 24 in Bethlehem is by scarce tickets obtained in advance. Some services are held in nearby caves particularly near the shepherd’s fields in Beit Sahour. Ask around to attend a cave service. Later in the evening there will be fireworks but Christmas Day is quiet. 

The Lutheran Church holds its services on December 25. They also participate in a joint service with the Washington Cathedral during Advent, which is available on TV in the United States. You can find out about it by going to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. during Advent.

 

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