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What is Christmas Eve in Bethlehem like?


Lica Ostaleri | CC

John Burger - published on 12/23/19 - updated on 12/21/21

People from all over the world join the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and Franciscan friars at the site of Jesus' birth.

In the town where Jesus was born, the Nativity of Christ is celebrated with liturgies and processions that have been repeated from time immemorial. For the Western Church’s observance of the feast, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem makes a special visit to Bethlehem and presides over a number of celebrations. Not too many people are fortunate enough to be inside the Church of St. Catherine for the liturgies, especially Midnight Mass, but thousands of pilgrims gather in Manger Square outside.

These photos offer a sampling of the sights and atmosphere on that “Holy Night.”

Christmas in Bethlehem
Everyone in Bethlehem and surrounding towns and villages knows when the morning of December 24 rolls around. The noise of drums from dozens of Scouts’ groups on parade signal a joyful anticipation of Christmas.
Christmas in Bethlehem
The Apostolic Administrator for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, processes to Bethlehem, stopping at the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Mar Elias, where he meets the pastor and the mayor of Beit Jala. According to the Custody of the Holy Land, Archbishop Pizzaballa exchanges Christmas wishes with the pastor of the Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem and the mayor of Beit Sahour.
Christmas in Bethlehem
At 1:30 p.m., Archbishop Pizzaballa solemnly enters Bethlehem, marking the beginning of the Christmas season in the Holy Land.
Christmas in Bethlehem
After the greeting by the parish priest, the celebration of First Vespers takes place at 4 p.m. in the Church of St. Catherine, presided over by the Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate, Archbishop Pizzaballa.
Christmas in Bethlehem
After First Vespers, the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land lead a procession to the Grotto of the Nativity and to the Grotto of St. Joseph.
Christmas in Bethlehem
As celebrations continue inside, the square in front of the Basilica of the Nativity fills with local faithful and pilgrims from all over the world.
Christmas in Bethlehem
At midnight, Mass is celebrated at the Church of St. Catherine. The liturgy is attended by the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, as well as representatives of the Palestinian Authority and ambassadors from various countries around the world.
Christmas in Bethlehem
After Mass, a prayerful procession of religious and faithful makes its way to the Grotto of the Nativity where the Child Jesus is placed.
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