As the conflict between Hamas and Israel continues to cause turmoil in the Holy Land, more cities have decided to forego mirthful and joyous Christmas celebrations to stand in solidarity with those who have lost their lives, as well as those who mourn the fallen. The move to cancel public Christmas festivities was first made by Jordan, in early November, and now both Jerusalem and Bethlehem have followed suit.
Aleteia previously reported that the move to cancel festivities was initiated by the Council of Church Leaders in Jordan, a group that works to maintain interfaith relations in one of the most diverse nations in the Middle East. The council decision means there will be no holiday markets, caroling, public Christmas tree displays, concerts, or public distribution of gifts to children.
While the national celebration of the secular Christmas traditions has been canceled, Christians are invited to place all their focus on the religious Christmas celebrations in churches. Father Rifat Bader, director of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media in the Jordanian capital, described how Christmas will look in Jordan in 2023:
“We will focus only on the religious celebration, including worship services and songs inside the churches and nothing outside the churches,” Father Bader explained.
Now, the move to cancel public Christmas celebrations has been echoed by the places most linked to the original Christmas story. Jerusalem and Bethlehem, in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank, have both followed the Jordanian example.
Fox News reports that the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, an interfaith council that works similarly to the Council of Church Leaders in Jordan, announced the cancellation of Christmas celebrations in a November 10 letter. It began by reflecting on the size and scope of past Christmas celebrations in Jerusalem, which regularly draw people of many faiths to see the grand displays in the Holy City.
“But these are not normal times. Since the start of the War, there has been an atmosphere of sadness and pain. Thousands of innocent civilians, including women and children, have died or suffered serious injuries,” the letter stated. “Many more grieve over the loss of their homes, their loved ones, or the uncertain fate of those dear to them. Throughout the region, even more have lost their work and are suffering from serious economic challenges.”
The Christian leaders noted that while the outward celebration of the Christmas season is subdued, the local parish celebrations will emphasize the spiritual core of the Christian holiday. The letter went on to encourage priests and the faithful to appropriately place the focus on the religious meaning of Christmas as the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The prohibition of Christmas festivities will also reach across the border to the West Bank, where the town of Bethlehem, where Jesus Christ was born, will have a much different Christmas in 2023. While there are similar restrictions in Bethlehem as in Jordan and Jerusalem, Bethlehem will be allowed to hold its annual Star Street procession, which follows the path said to have been taken by the Magi to visit the infant Jesus.
While the procession will take place, Christian Headlines reports that it will be conducted without any music. Furthermore, there will be a smaller number of Terra Sancta Scout Troops, boys and girls who usually take part in the procession.
Michele Burke Bowe, ambassador of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta to the Palestinian Authority, explained to Fox:
“No gifts, no celebrations, no fireworks or festivities – just a babe born on a deep winter night under a bright star.” Bowe added, “The families of Bethlehem will celebrate Christmas with Mass, prayer and sacrifice as requested by the religious leaders. Christmas will be somber, reflecting on the recent events in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank.”