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Christmas in Bethlehem

The Christmas Season in the real Bethlehem is celebrated with joy, deep hope, lights, nativity sets, and with activities in parishes throughout the Latin Patriarchate (the Catholic archdiocese of Jerusalem whose territory includes Cyprus, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine).

Visitors and pilgrims to the Holy Land during this time normally discover the witness of the local Christians expressing their faith by placing the nativity scene in their businesses, hotel lobbies, and homes.

Local Christian Traditions

Christmas Eve Mass begins in the early evening with a liturgical procession that can be around a half-mile long. Led by musicians, the Palestinian Scout Association of young boys and girls, altar servers and clergy; this dynamic procession attracts people from all over the world gathering to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Incarnate Word. The Christmas Eve Mass occurs in St. Catherine’s Catholic Church located alongside the Basilica of the Nativity which is built over the birthplace of Jesus. A statue of the infant is placed under the altar in a circular niche so all gathered can see.

For years, the celebration has attracted thousands to the sight where the Prince of Peace was born, including Jews, Muslims, tourists, pilgrims, and most especially the local Palestinian Catholic population. Christmas in Bethlehem is a unique time that brings people together where a sense of unity and collaboration can be felt. The bright lights along the streets, the traditional sweets are enjoyed, the Christmas spirit comes alive, and special experiences are shared in Bethlehem. A popular Christmas cookie known as Maamoul, is a Middle Eastern butter cookie with semolina dough, filled with date paste and sometimes includes pistachios; paired perfectly with traditional Arabic coffee that is strong and spiced with cardamom, served piping hot.

A Different Christmas in the Holy Land

This year, Christmas in Bethlehem and throughout the Holy Land will be different.  According to a Statement from the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem; “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.  Many more grieve over the loss of their homes, their loved ones…. Throughout the region, even more have lost their work and are suffering from serious economic challenges. Yet …the war continues. We, the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, call upon our congregations to stand strong with those facing such afflictions by this year foregoing any unnecessarily festive activities. We encourage our priests and the faithful to focus more on the spiritual meaning of Christmas in their pastoral activities and liturgical celebrations during his period, with all the focus directed in our thoughts for our brothers and sisters affected by this war and its consequences, and with fervent prayers for a just and lasting peace for our beloved Holy Land.“

Emmanuel - God With Us

Think of the thousands of pilgrims who have traveled from around the world to see, to touch, and venerate the birthplace of the Savior. Some were saints such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Jerome, St. Helena, and others who have touched these sites, received the Eucharistic Lord, and prayed with the local Christians. They left changed. Recalling the birth of the Word Made Flesh, they pondered the name Emmanuel which means God is with us.

We may have never traveled to Bethlehem; however, when we participate at Mass, we are united with Word made Flesh, with Christ who is the Prince of Peace. As we journey through this Season of Advent and prepare for the Christmas Season, let us ponder this mystery of the Incarnation. We can be changed by hearing the Word, by the liturgical prayers & petitions, by becoming one with the Lord in the Eucharist.

Let us set our nativity(s) in our home and, if possible, our workplace to remind the world of the birth of Christ, for he is our Hope. As you gaze upon your nativity scene, ask Jesus to be born in your heart and to grant you and your loved ones the grace to be instruments of his peace.

"Only if people change will the world change; and in order to change, people need the light that comes from God, the light which so unexpectedly (on the night of Christmas) entered into our night.” - Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Mary Jane Fox, D.H.S. is Co-Founder & Co-Director of Pilgrim Center of Hope with her husband, Deacon Tom Fox. The two left their careers after a profound conversion experience and began working full-time in ministry at their parish in 1986. After several years and having impacted tens of thousands of families, the Foxes founded Pilgrim Center of Hope in 1993 as a response to the Church’s call for a New Evangelization. Mary Jane is an invested member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a Dame of the Holy Sepulchre.

Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life. See what’s happening & let us journey with you! Visit