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Bethlehem celebrates muted Christmas

Bethlehem celebrates muted Christmas

Under dreary skies on Christmas morning, Bethlehem’s bells rang out across houses with closed pastel or green shutters, like an Advent calendar that no one had opened.

Shopkeepers and hotel owners in the Palestinian city reported considerably lesser business than in previous years, when coronavirus closures delayed the entry of wealthy international tourists, wreaking havoc on the economy of Jesus’ supposed birthplace.

Hundreds of Christians gathered outside the tree and crib in Manger Square, largely those who live, work or study in Israel and the occupied West Bank, to sing carols and cheer up the scene outside the Church of the Nativity.

Joseph Giacaman, whose family has been selling souvenirs around the area for almost a century, said sales was only about 2 percent of pre-pandemic levels. ‘Until three weeks ago, we were closed. I’ve only sold a couple of olive wood cribs. In normal years, we’d sell three or four a day all year,’ he remarked.

The back streets were almost deserted.

Star Street had been rebuilt in recent years in the hopes of attracting more visitors, but in November, when Israel began sealing its borders, the Omicron version crushed those expectations, as it had elsewhere.


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