Christmas in Bethlehem
As the birth place of Jesus Christ, Bethlehem holds important historical and religious significange to Christians worldwide. Every year, the city hosts Christmas celebrations, services, and processions led by the many different Christian denominations, including Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian, Armenian, and more. Most Christmas processions pass through Manger Square, the plaza outside the Basilica of the Nativity, which stands on the traditional site of Jesus' birth. Catholic services take place in St. Catherine's Church and Protestants often hold services at the Shepherds' Fields. Bethlehem Christmas celebrations stretch for a long period, as different denominations celebrate Christmas on different days. Roman Catholics and Protestants celebrate Christmas on December 25; Greek, Syrian and other Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 6; and Armenian Christians celebrate Christmas on January 18.
During this period of celebrations, the IDF and Civil Administration make a number of goodwill gestures to benefit the Palestinian Christian population in the region. The measures were approved by the Minister of Defense, Mr. Ehud Barak, and the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.
Ahead of the festivities and religious ceremonies that will take place during the holiday season, the Coordinator of the Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, and the head of the Civil Administration will visit church leaders and discuss with them the preparations being made. Thousands of pilgrims are expected to visit Bethlehem and, during the Christmas period, all the crossing points in the area will be open 24/7 to accommodate them. The commander and officials of the Bethlehem District Coordination Office met with community leaders to ensure that the events run smoothly, and that the time-honored principle of the status quo among the various religious factions is preserved.
Since a central element of the holiday is celebrating together with family, a number of measures intended to facilitate family gatherings are being implemented, beginning on Sunday, December 19, 2010 and ending Thursday, January 20, 2011:
Major-General Dangot noted that, despite the numerous rockets that fell into Israeli territory in December 2010, Israel was still planning to allow Palestinian Christians to exit the Gaza Strip. This decision was taken because Israel views freedom of worship with the highest importance and will not allow Hamas to prevent the Christian community in the Gaza Strip from celebrating during this special season.
Schedule of Events in Nazareth: