Christmas Eve Celebration – Bethlehem

We walked into Manger Square (the location of both churches and the Mosque of Omar – 12) from the western side and were immediately stopped by a wall of people. We tried to squeeze our way to the center where the stage showcased musicians and dancers but quickly realized we were blocked by a barricade (4, 10). We had no idea what was going on and no idea how to get to the center when more and more people closed in from behind and we were trapped. This was not like a Disneyland ride this was like a Tokyo subway but worse.

It was worse than this. Much worse.

It was also worse than this:

Okay maybe not.

I could barely move my head, let alone turn around. Pretty soon our unfathomably gigantic mob of people began to move as one. Someone probably thought it would be a good idea to push (it was most likely the group of kids pressed up next to me smiling and pushing) and we eventually flowed to the other end of the square. At one point I chickened out and bailed to the side but realizing the rest of the group was still in the entity, I jumped back in and allowed myself to be carried to the end. We regrouped and hid in the tourist office to see what was actually going on.

The tourist office was eerily empty. We were handed white flowers (6) and a gift bag containing information about Bethlehem and wooden Christmas ornaments. We were told the barricades and crowd of crowds were present because Mahmoud Abbas (the President of the Palestinian National Authority) was about to drive through Manger Square. We walked outside and soon enough a caravan of black cars drove through the road made by the barricades to a cheering crowd (5). I could make out a figure waving his hand before the cars left, the crowds dispersed, and the barriers were removed.

With about half the crowd now gone we made our way to the center of the square and watched the Christmas Eve Celebration for some time. Different groups from all over the world took the stage and danced and sang carols in different languages (3, 13, 15). Film crews gathered to broadcast the event (11). Soon the songs began to repeat and repeat. What was the most fun was talking to the local Palestinians, most of whom wanted their photos taken (8, 9, 14). But eventually it grew late and we decided to see what we could find other than hummus for a hearty Christmas Dinner.

~ by jonathanmtsai on December 28, 2010.

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