Normally at this time of year, Bethlehem is abuzz: pilgrims start trickling into the city, lights adorn the ancient buildings, and preparations for the annual celebration in Manger Square are finalized.
“Christmas has always illuminated Bethlehem with its blessings and extravagant spirit. It is a joyful occasion full of peace and love with Christmas lights brightening the home of Jesus,” said Chris Nissan, an owner of the Bethlehem New Store on Manger Street in Bethlehem. “Christmas parades always manage to give life to Bethlehem as we all gather as one, celebrating the birth of Jesus.”
But this year will be a very different Christmas in Bethlehem for people like my friend Chris.
At a time when there is particular focus on the unique history of Bethlehem, I also wanted to ensure Bethlehem in present day does not get overlooked. As we celebrate the holidays this year, it’s important to keep in mind how difficult this season will be for the citizens of Bethlehem today.
“Bethlehem, my little city, is very sad these days,” said Jamil Hosh, owner of the Bethlehem Star Olive Wood factory, which has been selling hand-made olive wood goods since 1971. “There are 11,000 beds for tourists in Bethlehem, and now there is not a single tourist in the city. We all live from the tourist business – most of the people in Bethlehem are without any income.”
Tourists are largely unable to enter the city due to COVID restrictions, which not only means a lot less holiday cheer, it means a lot less business for local merchants who have been struggling over the past nine months.
“We have been forced to close all our businesses for so many months now, and send all our employees home. We feel they are our responsibility, but we were left with no choice, which has drastically and negatively impacted the business,” said Nissan. “In fact, Bethlehem generally depends on tourism to a point where Bethlehem with no tourists is like a tank of fish with no water.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Dorian Schimmel