Christmas Eve proved to be quite lackluster in the Biblical birthplace of Jesus Christ, Bethlehem. The crowd was much smaller than previous years and the celebration was dampened by the unrest caused by Donald Trump's announcement of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Arab Christians from Israel and the West Bank were discouraged from coming to Jerusalem due to the clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces. Officials from Palestine reduced the magnitude of Christmas celebrations, keeping in mind the volatile situation in the province.
Trump's declaration that he would move the US Embassy to Jerusalem was met with protests and almost daily instances of unrest in Bethlehem, which lies south of the affected city. However, Trump says that Jerusalem already serves as Israel's capital and he did not seek to negotiate the city's borders.
On the other hand, the UN General Assembly voted against Trump's decision on Thursday as the Old City houses Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, making it very sensitive and prone to unrest.
Christmas Eve scenes in Bethlehem
Hundreds of people gathered in Manger Square for Christmas celebrations by mid-afternoon of Christmas Eve. They were greeted by young people from Palestine who formed marching bands, scout troops and played bagpipes. Incidentally, a large banner of protest was carried along, protesting Trump's move. It read "manger Square appeal" and "#handsoffjerusalem".
"We decided to limit the Christmas celebrations to the religious rituals as an expression of rejection and anger and sympathy with the victims who fell in the recent protests. We want to show the people that we are people who deserve life, deserve our freedom, deserve our independence, deserve Jerusalem as our capital," he said.," said Anton Salman, the mayor of Bethlehem.
However, as night fell, the crowd thinned and almost disappeared as the weather played spoilsport.
Ravages of weather
On Christmas Eve night, the temperature in Bethlehem dropped to nine degrees Celsius and rainfall added to the cold and gloom. Seen on Manger Square were a few people who risked the wintry weather to celebrate Jesus's birthday. Most of the visitors had resorted to nearby churches and buildings for shelter.
Jersusalem's apostolic administrator Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, tried to instil some Christmas spirit in the people by saying, "Now it's time to enjoy. We as Christians we will enjoy, despite all the difficulties we have. Merry Christmas." It is to be noted that he is against Trump's decision of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.