PA tells Bethlehem Christians to cool it on Christmas

Amid ongoing wave of violence in Israel and West Bank, municipalities instructed not to light fireworks, keep decorations to minimum

Deputy Editor Amanda Borschel-Dan is the host of The Times of Israel's Daily Briefing and What Matters Now podcasts and heads up The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology coverage.

A giant Christmas Tree being placed during Christmas preparations at Nativity Church Square in Bethlehem on November 30, 2015. (Flash90)
A giant Christmas Tree being placed during Christmas preparations at Nativity Church Square in Bethlehem on November 30, 2015. (Flash90)

The Palestinian Authority has asked that public municipal Christmas celebrations be kept to a minimum this year, according to a report from Religion News Service.

According to the report, the Palestinian Authority has instructed there be a “certain decrease” in public celebrations in light of the ongoing wave of violence in Israel and the West Bank.

Although worldwide there are an estimated 1 million Palestinian Christians, today they represent an approximate 1-2% of the population of the West Bank, where many Christian sites, including Bethlehem, the place of Jesus’s birth, are found.

Head of a PA committee on churches in the West Bank Hanna Amireh told RNS that the PA has asked the Bethlehem municipality to abstain from lighting traditional Christmas fireworks and restrict the number of Christmas lights and decorations that annually line the town’s main streets.

According to an article in the Palestinian website Wattan, the Ramallah municipality also announced it will not light its annual Christmas tree due to “the scenes of murder and torture committed by the occupation authorities against our children and our youth.”

Bethlehem is the site of an annual Christmas tree lighting and parade. According to RNS, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah will preside over the lighting but will not participate in a festive meal following.

“I’m truly disappointed,” Ekram Juha, director of the Bethlehem mayor’s office, told RNS. “This is the place where Jesus was born and if you limit Christmas celebrations here you are limiting something spiritual and holy.”

This dictate comes just after far-right Jewish Israeli extremists protested a Christmas bazaar and celebrations in Jerusalem, in a demonstration in front of the city center’s YMCA.

Following the multi-pronged Paris attacks in November, Pope Francis wondered out loud whether it is appropriate to deck the halls in the face of so much suffering.

“Christmas is approaching: there will be lights, parties, Christmas trees and nativity scenes … it’s all a charade. The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path,” said Pope Francis in a sermon.

The Vatican itself will be made festive with, among other initiatives, a 25-meter (82-foot) pine, which will be decorated ahead of the Vatican’s Holy Year on December 8 with ornaments made by children from Italian cancer wards.

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