In an atmosphere of excitement and bliss, Palestinian tourists and pilgrims gathered outside the Church of Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, to commemorate the beginning of Christmas celebrations. Hundreds of locals, including tourists and pilgrims, gathered to the famed Manger Square, where a big Christmas tree had been erected, to take photographs next to it.
Traditional Palestinian garments were worn by some of the mothers, while modern costumes were worn by the children. The colour red, which is the colour of Santa Claus' attire, was dominant on the square. The joy of Christmas, however, was marred by the lack of foreign tourists and pilgrims who were unable to go to the holy city because of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to official statistics, almost three million and a half foreign tourists visited the Palestinian territories in 2019, with the majority of them visiting Bethlehem, a city with a long history in Christian history. However, beginning March 2020, the number of foreign visitors has nearly halved.
Ibrahim Faltas, a Christian priest, told Xinhua during ceremonial festivities outside the Church of Nativity that this year's Christmas will be difficult for all Palestinians because the tourist business has taken a hit, putting more people out of work."But, despite the hardships, we must arm ourselves with hope, and we pray that this cloud will be lifted from the entire world, and that the new year will be better, with peace and freedom reigning," he stated.
Rula Maayah, the Palestinian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, told Xinhua that this year's Christmas in Bethlehem was full of festive festivities and events, unlike the previous year, when the city was completely shut down. "Due to the spread of the new version of the coronavirus Omicron, this year's celebrations will be devoid of foreign travel," she added, adding that local tourism is thriving, with large crowds flocking to Bethlehem.
"Christmas provides the joy and optimism that the Palestinian people believe in," the Palestinian official explained.