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Christian leaders in Bethlehem say cancelled Christmas celebrations are to emphasize ‘spiritual meaning’

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Christian leaders in the city where Jesus Christ was born are saying the cancelation of Christmas celebrations is an exercise in meditation on the spiritual meaning of the holiday.

The Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, an interdenominational council of bishops and pastors responsible for churches in the Holy Land, made the decision known on Nov. 10 via a joint letter.

“Each year during the sacred seasons of Advent and Christmastide, our Christian communities throughout the Holy Land take great delight in their preparations for the commemoration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” the patriarchs wrote in their letter. “In addition to attendance in religious services, these celebrations have normally involved participation in numerous public festivities and the large-scale display of brightly lit and expensive decorations as a means of expressing our joy at the approach and arrival of the Feast of the Nativity.”

“But these are not normal times. Since the start of the War, there has been an atmosphere of sadness and pain. Thousands of innocent civilians, including women and children, have died or suffered serious injuries,” the bishops continued. “Many more grieve over the loss of their homes, their loved ones, or the uncertain fate of those dear to them. Throughout the region, even more have lost their work and are suffering from serious economic challenges. Yet despite our repeated calls for a humanitarian ceasefire and a de-escalation of violence, the war continues.”

The Christian leaders are attempting to make clear that the decision to strip Christmas celebrations of their pomp and circumstance is meant to highlight the spiritual core of the holiday amid more than a month of bloodshed.

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Christmas in Bethlehem

Armenian Orthodox arrive at the Church of Nativity, where it is believed that Jesus was born, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas and Epiphany. (Photo by Wisam Hashlamoun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

To date, there have been more than 1,200 Israelis reported killed by Hamas, while the Hamas-run Palestinian Ministry of Health is claiming nearly 13,000 civilians have been killed by Israeli military activity in Gaza.

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Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem holds mass

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa, middle, leads a mass on Easter Sunday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP via Getty Images)

“Therefore, We, the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, call upon our congregations to stand strong with those facing such affilictions by this year foregoing any unnecessarily festive activities,” the patriarchs wrote. “We likewise encourage our priests and the faithful to focus more on the spiritual meaning of Christmas in their pastoral activities and liturgical celebrations during this period, with all the focus directed at holding in our thoughts our brothers and sisters affected by this war and its consequences, and with fervent prayers for a just and lasting peace for our beloved Holy Land.”

The Christian leaders’ statement contextualizes reports from earlier this month quoting Bethlehem civil authorities on the decision to take down Christmas decorations in the area.

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Bethlehem Christmas tree

People attend Christmas celebrations around the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank. Domestic and foreign visitors gather around the Church of the Nativity, where Jesus is believed to have been born, to participate in Christmas ceremonies and Mass. (Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

“Bethlehem Municipality crews announced the dismantling of Christmas decorations installed several years ago in the city’s neighborhoods and removing all festive appearances in honor of the martyrs and in solidarity with our people in Gaza,” the city wrote on Facebook, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Michele Burke Bowe, ambassador of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta to the Palestinian Authority, told Fox News Digital that the stripped down holiday in the Holy Land will be much closer to the “first Christmas” than people are used to.

“This year in Bethlehem, there will be no Christmas tree, choirs, lights or decorations. The 100-plus-year-old Christmas parade composed of marching bands and bagpipers from the parish scout troops has been canceled,” said Bowe. “Instead, by edict of the Patriarch and Church Heads of Jerusalem, this December will be very much like that first Christmas 2,000 years ago. No gifts, no celebrations, no fireworks or festivities– Just a babe born on a deep winter night under a bright star.”

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Coptic Orthodox Christians are seen in Bethlehem

Anba Antonius, Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Jerusalem takes part in the Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem, West Bank. (Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Bowe also serves as president of the Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem, which provides maternal care for expectant mothers in the region, regardless of faith.

“The families of Bethlehem will celebrate Christmas with Mass, prayer and sacrifice as requested by the religious leaders. Christmas will be somber, reflecting on the recent events in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank,” Bowe said. 

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Christians in Bethlehem

People attend Christmas celebrations around the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank. (Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

She concluded, “But Christmas will not be without hope. Just as Mary and Joseph found shelter in the manger, the Holy Family Hospital, not 1,500 footsteps from the birthplace of Christ, will provide refuge to mothers delivering their babies without regard to financial need or religious creed.”

Israel and Hamas are in the 48th day of the war, which began on Oct. 7 when Palestinian terrorists launched a surprise attack on southern Israel.


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