Bethlehem Christmas tree-lighting a more subdued affair amid pandemic

Only a few dozen people attended the lighting of the Christmas tree in the city of Bethlehem on Saturday night, as coronavirus restrictions scaled back the annual event that is normally attended by thousands.

A small group of residents and religious leaders participated in the tree-lighting ceremony at Manger Square near the Church of the Nativity, where Christians believe Jesus was born. Others watched it virtually due to restrictions prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some officials — including Mohammad Shtayyeh, prime minister of the Palestinian National Authority — attended in person and addressed event participants watching online.

Shtayyeh said the Palestinian leadership is receiving the new year with determination to “confronting the [Israeli] occupation more firmly” and ending the internal political division with the rival militant Hamas group. He said Palestinians would “defeat the settlement”-building in the occupied West Bank despite the pandemic.

Thousands of pilgrims and tourists typically visit Bethlehem during the Christmas season, but ongoing pandemic restrictions made this year’s tree-lighting more subdued. (Majdi Mohammed/The Associated Press)

Bethlehem Mayor Anton Salman said Christmas is being observed this year in ways like no time before.

“We resorted to modern technology and to the virtual world to celebrate the lighting of the Christmas tree, wishing hope and optimism would flutter upon Palestine and the world,” Salman said.

Thousands of pilgrims and tourists typically visit Bethlehem, fill hotels and dine at restaurants during the Christmas season, bringing the area a much-needed injection of cash.

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