Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Bethlehem celebrates muted Christmas with few pilgrims to bring cheer

Bethlehem celebrates muted Christmas with few pilgrims to bring cheer

BETHLEHEM (Reuters) – The bells of Bethlehem rang out under grey skies on Christmas morning across streets whose closed pastel or green shutters were like an Advent calendar that nobody had turned up to open.

Shopkeepers and hotel owners in the Palestinian city reported far lower business than the years before coronavirus closures halted the arrival of wealthy foreign tourists, devastating the economy of the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

In Manger Square, hundreds of Christians - mostly those who live, work or study in Israel and the occupied West Bank - gathered near the tree and crib to sing carols and bring some cheer to the scene outside the Church of the Nativity.

But Joseph Giacaman, whose family has sold souvenirs around the square for a century, said business was around 2% of pre-pandemic years. “We were closed until three weeks ago. I have sold maybe two or three olive wood cribs. In normal years, we’d sell three or four each day throughout the year,” he said.

The back streets were virtually empty.

Star Street had been renovated in recent years in the aim of drawing crowds, but here as elsewhere the Omicron variant dashed those hopes in November when Israel began closing its borders.