At a few steps from the Holy Sepulcher, at the entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem, Christmas is finally in the air. On December 14, the Christmas tree at the New Gate, on the roof of the Ecole des Frères school, was opened. It is a well established tradition and a feast for all Christians in Jerusalem, but also for the many people of other religions who live in the Holy City.
At 6 p.m., youngsters with smartphones, families, children and parents gathered under the tree to wait for the lighting ceremony. At the end of the countdown, the tree was lit up to the sound of music.
This year, due to recent events following Trump’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, the event has become more low profile. The fireworks and the parade of local scouts that had been planned have been canceled due to protests.
A few days before Christmas, the trees festively decorated are illuminating all of places of the Christian holy places in the Holy Land, one by one. The tree in the place that is a symbol of Christmas–Bethlehem–was lit on December 2, marking the beginning of Advent.
On the stage in the square, speeches by political and religious authorities were made, followed by a performance by beloved singer and Arab Idol winner, Yacoub Shaheen. Before the lighting, the Custos of the Holy Land blessed the tree and the gifts. “Talata, wahad, tnin!” (“Three, two, one!”) the crowd shouted during the countdown. Then, the tree lit up among the joy of those present and their shouts of excitement, while fireworks lit the dark sky.
Anthony owns a shop near Manger Square. “Christmas and moments like today are very important to us,” explained the young man. The lighting of the tree brought many locals, but also pilgrims and tourists from afar, like pilgrim from California who said enthusiastically, “Here you really feel the Christmas spirit. When the bus entered the city, I saw all of the lights in the streets and I felt a lot of joy.”
“Nowhere in the world can you experience Christmas like you do in the Holy Land,” said two youth, who drove from their small town in Palestine to Bethlehem for the event. Hala, coming from Lidda in Israel, comes to the tree lighting ceremony every year: “This place smells of Christendom, because Jesus was born here”.