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A Blessed Bethlehem Holiday
Strip Christmas of its candy-coated commercialism, and in its raw form it remains a spiritual event, one that began in “a little town called Bethlehem.” A holiday in this Palestinian city remains popular especially to pilgrims worldwide who wish to see the birthplace of Christianity.
“House of Bread”, “House of Lamb”, and “City of David” are some of the names bequeathed to Bethlehem, the latter because it is the birthplace of the second king of Israel. During Christmas, it is swarmed by the devout, a venue for worship by various Christian denominations: Armenian, Ethiopian, Greek Orthodox, Protestant, Roman Catholic, and more. The places range from the Shepherds’ Fields, where shepherds saw the Star of the Nativity on the first Christmas, to the Church of St. Catherine, located where she saw an apparition of Christ.
This is a metropolis perched on the lower part of the Judean Mountains, filled with white structures and traditional craft workshops. Its entrance is marked by Rachel’s Tomb, the dome edifice now protected by a citadel, and one of the most sacred sites for Jews. A scarlet thread coiled around the biblical matriarch’s grave is said to ward off danger.
The Church of the Nativity remains the highlight for many visitors to Bethlehem. They enter through the Door of Humility, so-called because even those from the top rung of society had to descend from their horses to come in. The nave has 44 columns, most of which bear paintings of divine images from the time of the Crusades. The floor is decorated with mosaics from the time Emperor Constantine built the original church. The Grotto of the Nativity is the most important of all, situated in a cave where the Virgin Mary held her child for the first time. The site is marked by a silver star where a Latin engraving says, “Here of the Virgin Mary Jesus Christ was born — 1717.”
To some, Bethlehem may simply be a historical place that fascinates them, but to others it is a holy land where faith is rekindled, blazing powerfully in their hearts.