BETHLEHEM CHRISTMAS : This Year Will Be Different

By Poulin, Joan | Commonweal, December 15, 2000 | Go to article overview

BETHLEHEM CHRISTMAS : This Year Will Be Different


Poulin, Joan, Commonweal


Bethlehem is only a twenty-minute drive south from Jerusalem, or a three-hour walk. The population is Palestinian: Christian and Muslim. Fifty years ago, Christians predominated, but now Muslims are the majority in Bethlehem. Here, during the last two months, violent clashes between soldiers and Palestinians have erupted almost daily, but have been localized mainly at Rachel's Tomb, in the northern part of the town. Seven Palestinians from the Bethlehem area have died, a far cry from our image of the Bethlehem of Christmas carols and crib scenes.

I know few Christians will come to the Holy Land for Christmas this year. At least 80 percent of scheduled groups canceled their pilgrimages at the beginning of October, and late last month the Palestinian Authority called off official celebrations in Manger Square. Coupled with the fact that the territories which belong to the Palestinian Authority had previously been cut off from Israel for security reasons, this will continue to diminish the Palestinians' resources.

But despite what now seems like low-level war between Israelis and Palestinians, life goes forward. I have lived in Jerusalem for thirty years and work as an Israeli-licensed tour guide. I know, better than most, that the Bethlehem of Christmas carols and brotherly love is a beautiful dream, that the reality is something very different. Still, one can catch a glimpse of that dream even in the midst of violence.

As a tour guide, I have found that arrangements for handling visitors have changed for the better since the Palestinian Authority took over Bethlehem in 1995. Previously, Manger Square, the space in front of the Basilica of the Nativity, was a parking lot filled with buses, noisy and polluting. On the south side of the square was the police station surrounded by a high barbed wire fence. Now the square has been cleared and the police station turned into a visitors' center. A huge underground parking lot down the hill from the square can accommodate all the buses that arrive. An escalator carries pilgrims partway up the steep slope. There is still quite a climb to the square, but the view of the basilica, the oldest in the Holy Land, is now unobstructed.

The Basilica of the Nativity has hardly changed since it was built by Justinian in the sixth century. It is situated over the cave where tradition places the birth of Jesus. Crusaders, in the twelfth century, added wonderful mosaics representing the ecumenical and local councils of the church and personages from the genealogies of Jesus according to Matthew and Luke. Wonderfully expressive angels adorn the high walls on both sides of the central nave, and on both sides of the sanctuary. Paintings on each column bordering the central nave depict saints who were venerated in medieval times. Today's pilgrims frown quizzically when I mention Saints Cataldus of Ireland, Onophrio with his long beard, his only covering, or Fusca.

Up until the recent troubles, there was little opportunity this great Jubilee year to admire any of this, much less the floor mosaics from the fourth century. The crowds were just too great. The mosaics were commissioned by Constantine when his mother, Helena, made her pilgrimage to the Holy Land and build the first church on the site. Justinian covered them with dirt and stones when he raised his church floor a couple of feet above the original floor, and they were only rediscovered in 1934 during the British Mandate. Now they are cleaned but can be seen only through wooden trap doors. For most of this year there were too many pilgrims to allow much of a view.

In the past year, once you had climbed to the square, you were confronted with a long line of people waiting to enter the basilica. Sometimes it took several hours to arrive at the church door, and you had to stand in line in the hot sun, patiently waiting to go down into the Grotto of the Nativity. The Palestinian Tourist Police were generally patient and polite. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

BETHLEHEM CHRISTMAS : This Year Will Be Different
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.