By Emmanuel Nduka
The traditional ceremonial lighting of the Christmas tree in Bethlehem where Jesus was born has been suspended this year, as the Israel – Hasmas war rages harder.
The celebration this year was pitched to be so popular, with reports that the city authorities planned to stage it twice, to better accommodate the crowds.
But now, Bethlehem will have no Christmas tree at all, as the Palestinian hilltop town, considered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, is in mourning. Out of respect, festivities in Bethlehem have been called off — for the first time in the town’s memory.
“We’re not celebrating,” Majed Ishaq, a member of the town’s Palestinian Christian community said. Ishaq’s extended family of 700 people would normally gather at this time of year to eat together, exchange gifts, play games and dress up as Santa Claus.
“There’s a huge pain in our hearts, so we can’t — we’re not ready to see a tree or any kind of decoration. I don’t know if they’re alive or not,” Oshaq added.
Residents of Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank, who have faced death and destruction just 70km away in Gaza are also not in the mood for Christmas.
“We’re in a state of war and we’re all thinking of what’s happening in Gaza,” said Munther Isaac, a pastor at one of the city’s churches.
Rev Isaac has been supporting members of his congregation who have lost relatives in the shelling, visiting their homes and talking about their grief during mass.
It is “Jesus under the rubble”, he said, explaining that the set up echoed the images of children trapped under collapsed buildings in Gaza, which Bethlehem’s residents see on television in a daily basis.
He set up a different sort of Nativity scene in his church this year: the same, traditional model of a baby Jesus, surrounded by Mary and Joseph, shepherds and flock, to make it a reality. But the manger is now made out of a pile of broken concrete and bricks.
Heritage Times HT recalls that the war in Hamas-controlled Gaza was launched in response to the October 7 attack by the militant group on southern Israel that killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli authorities.