Thousands Celebrated Christmas Eve in Bethlehem
Christmas Eve celebrations are underway in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Palestinian boy and girl scouts kicked off Christmas Eve celebrations here in Bethlehem with a festive march through Manger Square. It was a mixture of nationalism and religion: The marchers carried Palestinian flags as they passed a giant Christmas tree in front of the ancient Church of the Nativity. Pilgrims from around the world watched the festivities and also spent some solemn prayer time at the Grotto of the Nativity, where tradition says Jesus was born. Bethany Walker came from South Africa. “It was very emotional and there is such an anointing actually on that spot," she said. "It’s as if you can take that little baby’s hand and just receive Him and say, ‘Welcome in this world.’” For the Palestinians, it was another Christmas under Israeli occupation. But the city’s mayor, Vera Baboun, told VOA that it is still a Merry Christmas. “We pray for peace, not only for us who lack peace, but we pray for the whole world. And what is the message of Bethlehem originally? It’s about peace, it’s about love, it’s about hope,” said Vera. And in that spirit, there was rare cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to bring as many pilgrims as possible to Bethlehem.