Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth (Luke 2:4-6).
On Christmas Eve, we took a free shuttle (c/o the Ministry of Tourism) from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. I reckon the free shuttle was provided to help spur tourism and visitation to Bethlehem despite the recent violence in the area over the past few months. Much to our surprise, it was really easy to get there, after being dropped off in the middle of the city centre. We walked to our accommodation, the really nice Ararat Hotel, which was a 12 minute uphill walk to Manger Square. After settling in, we had dinner at the Peace Center Restaurant, and enjoyed some Palestinian dishes. Walking around Manger Square, we bought a few items in the shops for our friends and family, particularly Christmas ornaments and Nativity sets made out of olive wood. Our favourite shopkeeper was Louis who owned St. Patrick’s gifts. He was from Bethlehem and was very welcoming. Louis offered us some some and tips about the town, which we greatly appreciated. Nathania and I did not have tickets to attend midnight Mass in St. Catherine’s Church, so we watched the liturgies on the big screen TV in Manger Square. It was a but surreal to come to Bethlehem during Christmas. Lots of images of Santa Claus, baby Jesus, and hundreds of armed soldiers around. I think the security forces were there because the President of the Palestinian Authority attended Mass and also to make sure nothing regrettable happens on Christmas Eve, since the whole world is fixated on that town. After Mass, it was a mad scramble to get to the Church of the Nativity. Being too busy with pilgrims, we took a pass, and went back to the hotel to rest.
On Christmas Day, we attended Mass at St. Catherine’s (the Catholic Church adjacent to the Church of the Nativity). Afterward, we walked to Shepherd’s Field:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord (Luke 2:8-11).
There was a chapel, Byzantine monastery ruins, and beautiful gardens to relax. It was a nice contrast to the busy streets of Bethlehem. Later that evening, we had a nice Christmas dinner at Square Restaurant and bought a few more items in Manger Square.
For our last day in Bethlehem, we had a nice and intimate Mass in the Grotto of the Church of the Nativity – where Catholics and Orthodox believe is the spot where Christ was born. Having Mass here was the perfect time and place to pray and reflect on the birth of our Lord without the large crowds and lack of time to pay respects. In the afternoon, we hired a taxi to take us to some Banksy works of art situated around the city. Much to our amazement, two works were within walking distance of our hotel. The others were closer to the wall that separates the West Bank and Israel, which was a sad sight to see. The violence and division that flares up here is a stark contrast to the the fundamentals peaceful tenets of the Abrahamic faiths.