O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
Bethlehem, Palestine, may be more still than ever this year. Celebrations in the town of Jesus’ birth are usually attended by thousands of people from around the world. But for 2020, the Palestinian Health Ministry is recommending strict limits on Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem. The precautions are due to the recent surge of coronavirus cases.
The ministry wants to limit the upcoming Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Manger Square to 50 people. Officials are also hoping to turn the tree lights off and close area restaurants at 9 p.m. during the Christmas season. In its recommendations, the ministry further says religious services on Christmas Eve should also limit attendance.
Bethlehem today is filled with hotels, gift shops, and restaurants. Its economy relies heavily on Christmas tourism and sales. The cancellation or scaling back of celebrations will deal another blow to an area already hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.
Palestinian officials are expected to make a final decision on Christmas celebrations in the coming days. Israel’s international airport—the main entry point for foreign travelers—has been closed to tourists for months. That limits the number of possible pilgrims, whatever the verdict.
The West Bank is in the midst of a spike in coronavirus cases. Israel is only slowly emerging from a lockdown imposed in September to control a raging outbreak. The northern Israeli town of Nazareth, revered by Christians as the place of Jesus’ childhood, has been designated a “restricted” zone by authorities. Movement in and out of that area will be restricted or limited for at least the next few days.
(Palestinian Christians celebrate a Christmas tree lighting outside the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to mark the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on November 30, 2019. AP/Majdi Mohammed)