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Christmas in Bethlehem

Let’s go back to the place where it all began, where a travelling couple was refused shelter for the night, where three wise men were led by a brightly shining star, and where a child unlike any other was born… Bethlehem.

Here, the Yuletide season is already peppered with Western traditions, a German-style Christkindlmarkt having opened recently. Its wares include fast-selling nativity scenes. Carols waft through the air, while bars entice partygoers into their nightly festivities.

However, Christmas remains a deeply spiritual event in Bethlehem. Not an empty bed can be found in its hotels this year, with pilgrims from all over the world pouring in to visit this sacred place. Garbed in traditional dress, leaders of various Christian denominations – Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Protestant, Ethiopian, Armenian, and others – hold processions and services attended by the faithful.

Venues vary from the Shepherds’ Fields, where the Star of the Nativity was seen by shepherds tending to their sheep that fateful evening, to the Church of St. Catherine, built on the site where the martyr saw an apparition of Christ.

Many lips have grazed the time-worn marble of the Grotto of the Nativity, an ancient cave, which lies within the Church of the Nativity. This is one of the most important sites in the Christian world, where the Christ-child is believed to have been born. In the grotto are 15 overhanging lamps, and on the floor, an ornate silver star with the Latin engraving, “Here of the Virgin Mary Jesus Christ was born — 1717.” The Chapel of the Manger is a few steps away, where many are moved to prayer.

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