Bethlehem’s Christmas downsized by politics, weather
Bethlehem, West Bank – It was a subdued Christmas Eve in the historic birthplace of Jesus on Sunday, with spirits dampened by cold, rainy weather and recent violence sparked by President Donald Trump’s recognition of nearby Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Crowds were thinner than previous years as visitors, particularly Arab Christians living in Israel and the West Bank, appeared to be deterred by clashes that have broken out in recent weeks between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces. Although there was no violence Sunday, Palestinian officials scaled back the celebrations in protest.
Claire Degout, a tourist from France, said she would not allow Trump’s pronouncement, which has infuriated the Palestinians and drawn widespread international opposition, affect her decision to celebrate Christmas in the Holy Land.
“The decision of one man cannot affect all the Holy Land,” she said. “Jerusalem belongs to everybody, you know, and it will be always like that, whatever Trump says.”
Trump abandoned decades of U.S. policy on Dec. 6 by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and saying he would move the American Embassy to the holy city.
By midafternoon, hundreds of people had gathered in Manger Square near the city’s main Christmas for celebrations, greeted by bagpipe-playing young Palestinian marching bands and scout troops.
But after nightfall, the crowds had thinned as rain fell and temperatures dipped to about 49 degrees. Just a few dozen people milled about Manger Square, while others took shelter in the church and other nearby buildings.
Bethlehem’s mayor, Anton Salman, said celebrations were toned down because of anger over Trump’s decision.
“We decided to limit the Christmas celebrations to the religious rituals as an expression of rejection and anger and sympathy with the victims who fell in the recent protests,” he said.