Monday, January 4, 2010

Christmas Eve in Bethlehem

Christmas Eve in Bethlehem is like Christmas Eve in no other place.

In the land where I grew up, we celebrate the birth of Jesus by lighting candles, drinking mulled wine, gathering in front of the TV watching an old Disney Christmas special (like Jesus himself would do), exchanging gifts, eating lots and lots of Christmas food. Traditionally, things that Jesus would eat, such as pork, meatballs, little sausages, rice pudding... (um?) But in my family we're very un-Christian and don't eat meat at all.

Anyway, the point is that Christmas is a quiet holiday celebrated at home with your family, ideally as the snowflakes are falling outside the window.

Christmas in Bethlehem on the other hand, is not celebrated at home. It's celebrated on the streets, in great numbers, with loud live music on a stage on Manger Square, glow-in-the-dark spinning things that you throw up in the air, little cups of tea that you buy off the tea guy, Santa Claus outfits, and peace lights that look like little hot-air balloons that you send sailing up into space. And it doesn't really matter if you're Christian or Muslim, Palestinian or a foreigner--everybody's together in one big outdoors street party.

A quiet Christmas Eve? Whatever. That's lame. In Bethlehem it's Christmas Festival. And in the middle of the Christmas carol concert on Manger Square, the speakers on the mosque bellow out the call for prayer and everything stops for a few minutes until it's over and the concert can continue where it left off.

And--as Jesus would have wanted it--between the buildings, there hang Christmas lights in the shape of Santa Claus, his sleigh, his reindeer, and... of course, a hamburger.

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