Christmas in Bethlehem
As one might imagine, Christmas in Bethlehem, the city where Jesus was born, is a major event. Some of Bethlehem's Christmas celebrations would be familiar to Europeans and North Americans - the streets are strung with Christmas lights, there is a Christmas market and Christmas plays are performed.
But other events, which are the most important religiously, are special to Bethlehem and in keeping with the traditions of the Holy Land. These consist of multiple services and processions led by 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. Below is a summary of the many services and events that take place in Bethlehem.
Protestant churches based in the Holy Land celebrate Christmas in a variety of ways. Some simply hold special Christmas services in their local churches, while others organize excursions for special services in the Shepherd's Fields or the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Roman Catholic services begin on December 24 and center around St. Catherine's Church, a Catholic church adjacent to the Orthodox Basilica of the Nativity. Services are also held on January 5 and 6 to celebrate Epiphany.
Orthodox Christians, including Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox and others, celebrate Christmas on January 6. Like Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christmas in Bethlehem consists of numerous processions and long services. Most Orthodox events take place at the Basilica of the Nativity.
Armenian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 18. Most Armenian Christmas services center around the Basilica of the Nativity.