Palestinian Christians cancel Christmas celebrations to mourn Gaza victims

Palestinian Christians cancel Christmas celebrations to mourn Gaza victims
As death toll of Palestinians due to Israeli bombings on Gaza continues to rise, Palestinian churches and traditionally-Christian cities call off Christmas celebrations this year, in mourning and protest against Israel's assault.
4 min read
West Bank
23 November, 2023
The municipalities and churches of Bethlehem and Ramallah declared cancelled Christmas celebrations coming month [Qassam Muaddi /TNA]

Christmas celebrations will be cancelled this year in the West Bank in solidarity with Gaza, the municipalities and churches of Bethlehem and Ramallah announced last Thursday.

In a joint statement, the bishops of Christian churches in Jerusalem called on all Christian parishes to restrict Christmas celebrations and collect donations for the victims of Israel’s war.

“We are not living in normal times,” the statement read. “Since the beginning of the war on Gaza, thousands of innocents have lost their lives and many more have been wounded, while people live in anguish for those whose destiny remains unknown".

“Therefore, we, the bishops and heads of churches in Jerusalem call upon our parishes to let aside unnecessary celebrations this year”.

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The statement also encouraged priests and pastors to “concentrate on the spiritual meaning of Christmas and dedicate our thoughts with our brothers and sisters in Gaza”.

In Nazareth, the Orthodox Bishop of Galilee, Father Yousef Matta, told the local Al-Sunnarah newspaper that the heads of churches gave instructions to all parishes across the country, following the joint statement, asking to cancel celebrations.

In Bethlehem, Christmas celebrations were declared cancelled by the city’s mayor, Hanna Hananiyah.

In a press statement, Hananiyah said that the municipality and the city’s churches decided to cancel celebrations, and replace them with protest activities in solidarity with Gaza’s Palestinians.

Bethlehem yearly hosts the main Christmas celebrations, including the traditional bishop’s entry to the Nativity church, which is accompanied by scout bands parades and popular celebrations.

In Ramallah, the administrative centre of the West Bank, the city’s municipality and council of churches issued their own statement cancelling Christmas celebrations this year. Ramallah’s yearly Christmas celebrations are among the most attended in Palestine, including the ceremonial Christmas tree lighting.

Christmas celebrations are considered a national occasion in Palestine, especially in Bethlehem and Ramallah, where religious, political and civil authorities participate in the main activities.

For Palestine's Christian community, mostly concentrated in the Ramallah and Bethlehem regions, Christmas is the most important occasion to celebrate their heritage.

"This decision is not an expression of solidarity, because we are not strangers",  Father Bashar Fawadleh, priest of the catholic parish of Taybeh, east of Ramallah, told The New Arab.

"This is a sign of mourning and sharing the sorrow with our Palestinian brothers and sisters, which we have all been living since the beginning of this war", said Father Fawadleh.

"We will concentrate this Christmas on spiritual services, and on contemplating the meaning of this tragedy and the pain endured by our people", he pointed out.

Palestinian Christian households are also intending to "concentrate living this Christmas on contemplating the deep meaning of Christmas, like love for the suffering and reaching out to them," Hid Shraideh, Palestinian Christian journalist, writer and mother, told TNA.

"But prayer and contemplation is not enough without actively helping those suffering, from a Christian perspective, but we can't even do that, because we can't get any aid that we collect to Gaza, which is for me an obstruction of our right to practice our faith," she said.

"Our message as Palestinian Christians to Christians around the world is that we are disappointed by them," added Shraideh. "Their celebration of Christmas is meaningless if they continue to look away from the atrocities committed in Gaza," she stressed.

"Our cancellation of Christmas celebrations this year is a call for justice by us, the oldest Christian community on earth, who will remain in Palestine," she remarked.

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Since 7 October, Israeli bombings targeted three churches in Gaza, including the Orthodox Saint Porphyrius church in Gaza city, one of the oldest churches in the world. The bombing killed 18 Palestinians who were taking refuge in the church. Israeli forces have also bombed 31 mosques in the Gaza Strip.

The ongoing Israeli assault on Gaza has killed at least 14,000 Palestinians since 7 October, including thousands of children. An unknown number of Palestinians are still missing under the rubble.