The inn rooms are empty in Bethlehem this year for the traditional Christmas celebrations as the Holy Land city battens hatches against the novel coronavirus pandemic at a time of the year it normally throngs with visitors.
Those seeking a quiet moment of contemplation in the Church of Nativity – celebrated by tradition to be the site of the birth of Jesus normally have to elbow their ways through the crowds that throng.
A surge in COVID-19 cases on the West Bank, part of the occupied Palestinian territory, means some severe lockdown conditions.
While midnight mass will take place at the Nativity Church on Christmas Eve, there will be congregation, the BBC reported.
Yet Father Rami Asakrieh told AFP that although the dearth has devastated local business, it has also offered a rare opportunity for solemn worship.
“I think that this Christmas is different because people are not busy with the external manifestations of the feast,” the priest said, referring to the gift-buying that has, for many, become synonymous with Christmas.
“Now (people) have the time, and they are obligated, to concentrate on the essential… the theological spirit of Christmas,” he said. “Less business, but more religion.”
Only a few dozen people attended the lighting of the Christmas tree in Bethlehem on Dec. 19 due to the virus restrictions compared to thousands who normally turn up, The Times of Israel reported.
A small group of residents and religious leaders participated in the tree-lighting ceremony at Manger Square near the Church of the Nativity. Others watched it virtually due to the restrictions.
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, the newspaper reported.