Milton Quintanilla | Contributor for ChristianHeadlines.com

The Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, an interdenominational council of bishops and pastors responsible for churches in Israel, announced the decision on Nov. 10 in a joint letter. 

“Each year during the sacred seasons of Advent and Christmastide, our Christian communities throughout the Holy Land take great delight in their preparations for commemorating the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” the patriarchs wrote in their letter. “In addition to attendance in religious services, these celebrations have normally involved participation in numerous public festivities and the large-scale display of brightly lit and expensive decorations as a means of expressing our joy at the approach and arrival of the Feast of the Nativity.”

“But these are not normal times. Since the start of the War, there has been an atmosphere of sadness and pain. Thousands of innocent civilians, including women and children, have died or suffered serious injuries,” the bishops added. “Many more grieve over the loss of their homes, their loved ones, or the uncertain fate of those dear to them. Throughout the region, even more have lost their work and are suffering from serious economic challenges. Yet despite our repeated calls for a humanitarian ceasefire and a de-escalation of violence, the war continues.”

“Therefore, We, the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, call upon our congregations to stand strong with those facing such afflictions by this year foregoing any unnecessarily festive activities,” the patriarchs wrote. “We likewise encourage our priests and the faithful to focus more on the spiritual meaning of Christmas in their pastoral activities and liturgical celebrations during this period, with all the focus directed at holding in our thoughts our brothers and sisters affected by this war and its consequences, and with fervent prayers for a just and lasting peace for our beloved Holy Land.”

According to the National Catholic Register, workers have dismantled the light canopy on Nativity Square and at other locations in the city in light of the municipality’s decision.

“Bethlehem, as any other Palestinian city, is mourning and sad… We cannot celebrate while in this situation,” outgoing mayor Hanna Hanania told CNA.

“We’ll pray for God to have peace in the land of peace,” Hanania continued. 

Meanwhile, the Status Quo, a set of rules that has organized access to and use of the main holy sites dating back to the Ottoman Empire, will still be in effect. Per the stipulations,  the customs of the Holy Land will make their way into Bethlehem on the eve of Advent. Additionally, the  Latin patriarch of Jerusalem will do the same on Christmas Eve (Dec. 24).  

On the other hand, the procession along Star Street, the route that is believed to have been crossed by the Magi, will not feature music this year, while there will be a smaller number of Terra Sancta Scout Troops, boys and girls who usually take part in the procession. 

Bethlehem, however, is not the only place to have canceled Christmas celebrations due to the Israel-Hamas War. 

Weeks prior to Bethlehem’s cancellation, Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem urged Christians in the Holy Land to pull back from “unnecessarily festive” Christmas activities. At the same time, Catholic churches in Galilee and the Council of Local Evangelical Churches in the Holy Land made the same decision.

According to Christianity Today, Jordan was the first country to cancel their Christian celebrations earlier this month following an announcement by the Jordan Council of Church Leaders (JCCL) on Nov. 2.

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