Silent Night – Christmas In Bethlehem
When I made the decision to reside in the Middle East I fully gave up the notion of celebrating Christmas. I like to pride myself on trying many things that life has to offer, and this includes spending Christmas in some strange locations. To date I have spent Christmas Eve in Bath Abbey’s midnight mass service to a bar in Bosnia where I gleefully told everyone it was Christmas and not one person gave me a second look, or in fact any look. Previously, I have spent Christmas days in food frenzies, drunken blurs and hitchhiking into Montenegro in snow. Needless to say I attempt most things once. So call me stupid but when I moved to Bethlehem I expected a whole parade of religious pilgrims to march through in December but I was not prepared for a Middle Eastern winter wonderland.
The Church of the Nativity (the place where Jesus was allegedly born, and yes, I have touched the spot), has outside a large square which we all refer to as manager square. On an off note Bethlehem is full of adorable names, Manager Square, Star Street, Shepherds Field; it’s like living in the bible. Anyway, we read online that in this square there was going to be a Christmas light switching on ceremony which was to be hosted by the Mayor of Bethlehem and the Prime Minister. Walking through cobbled dark streets was the like upto Santa’s grotto for the first time as a child, lights hung from every available lamppost, star shapes, fun looking disco ball shapes, strands between doorways. It was enchanting. The square was busier than I have ever seen it, people milling everywhere, stalls set up around the parameter selling trinkets all hand made by local charities, there was even a crepe stand selling crepes stuffed with nutella. It was completely unexpected yet reminded me poignantly of home and the build up to Christmas in the UK. After having watched several bands perform acoustic versions off silent night and listening to an unidentifiable song in Arabic (my conversationalist Arabic didn’t stretch to opera Arabic) there was an incredible moment when the excitement swelled amongst the crowd and a countdown was started from 10-1, in Arabic of course and this time I could join in (smugly I may add). What happened on 1 not only rendered me speechless but also elicited out of me an excited giggle much to amusement of the man holding my crepe. The entire square light up, every tree, the 40-odd foot Christmas tree, signs across shop doors, a giant star suspended on lampposts, and most amazingly a firework display wonderful and well co-ordinated enough to match the best I’ve seen. It was beyond magical, it was Christmas. I am so far away from home and in a culture and a conflict which I try and understand everyday, and yet for just 1 hour everyone was in the place, understanding the same thing and maybe not speaking the same language literally but definitely figuratively. I have never felt so at home so far away from home.
So despite it being still a few weeks until Christmas here is a reminder that the whole world is in its own way getting ready to celebrate this wonderful event, and in advance have a very merry Christmas.