For 2nd Year, Bethlehem Faces a Somber Christmas

Traditional Processions Rerouted Due to Violence

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JERUSALEM, DEC. 21, 2001 ( Traditional Christmas processions in Bethlehem will likely have to be diverted because of the ongoing violence in the Palestinian Territories.

Christmas is celebrated on three different dates in Jesus´ birthplace. Dec. 25 is the day celebrated by Catholics and Protestants; Jan. 6 by the Orthodox and other Eastern Churches; and Jan. 18 by the Armenians.

On these occasions, the corresponding patriarch of Jerusalem — either the Latin Catholic, Greek Orthodox, or Armenian — walks 8 kilometers (5 miles) in procession from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

The violence that erupted with the intifada in September 2000 will likely block these processions, as was the case last year.

Usually, the patriarchs would pass Rachel´s Tomb before entering the City of David by Star Street. According to tradition, this is the way chosen by the wise men of the East.

The patriarchs, accompanied by Palestinian Christian boy scouts, then walk to Manger Square. The Nativity Cave, where it is believed Jesus of Nazareth was born, is in the Basilica of the Nativity, one of the oldest of Christianity.

Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, a native of Nazareth, will celebrate midnight Mass in the Franciscan Church of St. Catherine, next to Manger Square. It will be transmitted live worldwide.

Christians in Bethlehem are divided in 13 various communities. They constitute about 30% of the population.

Palestinian Christians, who, like Muslims, are Arabic in culture, celebrate Christmas with special Eastern dishes. The most typical are stuffed eggplant and stuffed vine leaves.

Like Muslims during Ramadan, Christians bake special cakes and sweets for this feast, which they offer to guests. In Bethlehem, Christmas is known by its Arabic name, «Il-Milad.»

Other Palestinian Christmas customs include a popular dinner, offered by the municipality in Manger Square; carols; and gifts. Gifts in Palestine are brought by the Three Kings on Christmas Day.

Another tradition is the visit of consolation to those who have lost a loved one in the past year. Many will participate in this tradition this year, given the tragedies of the intifada.

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