The colored strings of lights are now decorating its streets. As you drive past homes you now see Christmas trees proudly placed in front of windows so that all may see. Manger Street is full of traffic at night but no one is complaining for everyone is waiting their turn to receive candy from one of the many Santa Clauses dancing with joy in the street. Everywhere you go you hear Christmas songs played from small radios placed in front of stores or on balconies. In Manger Square, the main Christmas tree shines with bright colors and decorations. The joy is doubled in this holy city this year as both the Palestinian Christians and the Muslim communities celebrate. Christmas and Eid Al-Adha (the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice) have come together this year.
It would have been easy and even justified for Bethlehem and its families not to do anything this Christmas and Eid season and to just sit back and complain about how bad things are. It would have been accepted if people say we can not afford anything because unemployment is at it highest level in years. It would have made sense if people complained that the Separation Wall and barriers (build by the Israeli government and now surrounding the entire city) have cut them of from the world and broken their spirit. It would have been justified to blame the Israeli occupation, its aggressive military, and checkpoints for destroying any hope for any future, but that will not happen in Bethlehem.
Bethlehem has chosen to overcome all obstacles and stand resilient in the face of all challenges. Bethlehem has chosen to stand committed to its historic role and responsibility as the bearer and the keeper of the Christmas spirit. Bethlehem has decided to be the place where hope for peace is born once again.
Land may be stolen for building illegal settlement, walls may be built to imprison entire communities, the body may be broken with acts of violence and torture, but the spirit of Bethlehem will never surrender.
This Christmas season remember Bethlehem … Remember Bethlehem not for the pain and violence it faces but for the joy and resilience it possesses.