Bethlehem celebrates Christmas Eve amid pandemic, lack of pilgrims

Bethlehem, Dec 24 (EFE).- Bethlehem, the cradle of Christianity, is celebrating its second Christmas amid the coronavirus pandemic in which the lack of pilgrims is noticeable not only on the empty streets but also in the pockets of the local population, which heavily relies on tourism.

After experiencing one of the worst Christmases in living memory in 2020, the Palestinian community of Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank, were confident that 2021 would be a better year.

But as the highly contagious coronavirus variant Omicron swept across the region, the tens of thousands tourists that usually crowd the city on Christmas Eve never showed up.

Despite the situation not being as bad as last year, Israel closed its borders to foreign tourism in a bid to contain the spread of Omicron.

So if the 2020 intimate festivities among local families might have seemed a quaint anecdote, the toughening of restrictions this year has exhausted the city’s merchants.

“Another Christmas without tourists or pilgrims. For two years now there have been days when I don’t open the store because it is more expensive to open than to stay at home,” Mike, who sells handicrafts in the city’s main square, tells Efe.

But despite the difficult circumstances, local residents didn’t miss out on decorating the city with Christmas decorations and for those who could, pilgrimed from Jerusalem to the Church of Nativity.

And for those who would have wanted to go back home to spend Christmas with their families abroad, Bethlehem became the place to go.

“Since I couldn’t go home for Christmas, I decided to come and spend the day in Bethlehem,” Catherine, a French humanitarian worker temporarily based in Jerusalem, told Efe. EFE


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