Christmas is regarded as the most popular holiday celebrated every year. Starting off as a celebration of the birth of Jesus, it has evolved to a holiday about gift giving, winter, and Santa Claus. Now with that being said, Christmas is still highly revered in the Christian denominations and is a very important day for members of the church.
The celebrations themselves are joyous and filled with light but it is hard to overlook some points that make celebrating Christmas as a Palestinian in Palestine difficult.
The White-Washing of Christmas
Palestinian people are often overlooked, hated, and treated as sub-human. We are othered and seen as burdensome. But the land of Palestine on the other hand is treated as otherworldly. Many do not focus on the fact that the story of Jesus , Mary, and the wise men is about these specific Palestinians and their trials to bring forth the Messiah. The story takes place on this vast deserted land that is now a tourist site for a holy pilgrimage. People tend to look past the facts they don’t like, as well as pick and choose what best suits their opinions. Leading to a biased and skewed view on Palestinians and Christianity as a whole.
- Jesus was not white.
- Mary was not white.
- Christianity is not a religion for whites only.
Christians Exist in Palestine (surprise)
It can be very hard to believe, but Christians actually exist in every corner of the world, including Muslim-majority countries (aka the birthplace of Christianity). So yes, Palestinians exist and yes, many are Christian.
The Political Implications
In 2018, when then United States President announced that the US Embassy would be moved to Jerusalem, a collective sadness flooded the Palestinian people. This was also around the time that Christmas celebrations were beginning to commence in Bethlehem. Many felt that they could not properly celebrate Christmas because they were morning the loss of Palestine. It becomes tough to live and celebrate in a place where people view one half of you as holy, and the other as inhuman.
Living as a Palestinian is, alone, quite controversial.
The Actual Celebrations of Christmas
The city of Bethlehem, known to be the birthplace of Jesus, puts on a Christmas tree lighting show every year. People take part in parades, and create irreplaceable memories with their neighbors. The beautiful thing about living in the hub of all three Abrahamic religions is the unity shown in celebrations. Christians hand out dates in Ramadan, stores stay open later for Shabbat, and everyone attends the Christmas lighting ceremony. “Its an experience that cannot be replicated” says Jumana Khoury of Bethlehem.
Now being that there is a big church built on the birthplace of Jesus, many flock to the church for mass. In the week leading up to Christmas, there are kids running around in the streets in joy, Santa Claus’s handing out candy, and music playing all over the place. Think Hallmark Christmas movie town set in the desert. Of course there comes a time where those who grew up with those Christmas traditions in Palestine cannot ever live those experiences again.
I was able to have a quick conversation with Hailee Bakhit, a Catholic Palestinian woman living in America who has never been able to celebrate Christmas in her hometown in Palestine.
M: I understand that you were born in America, therefore most of your childhood was spent away from Palestine. How does it feel identifying as a Palestinian Catholic and do you have dreams of spending Christmas in Palestine?
H: I mean I would love to spend Christmas in Palestine. It is the land where soooo much went down in the Bible and in my personal experience, the most interesting parts are going to Bethlehem and seeing where Jesus was born. I am sure that experience would be ten times more meaningful during Christmastime.
M: Are you familiar with how Christmas is celebrated in Palestine?
H: Well my mother is not one to go into detail but she talks about the big Christmas parade in Bethlehem and they would light up the tree with everyone there and they have music and such. Oh and there is a Santa there and he passes candy out to all the kids. Haha and she also mentions Church, of course, and how going is made into a big event. It’s tradition.
There is this weird dichotomy that comes with being Christian and Palestinian. Only half of you appeals to the world and is celebrated, but the other is thrown to the curb. But Christmas is ♫ the most wonderful time of the year ♫ as we know and Palestinian Christians use it as the time o solidify their identity.
About the Author: Majd Nuwarah is a Palestinian-American Actor, Writer, and Knafeh connoisseur. At just 19 years old, Majd has traveled to many different countries where he has been able to experience all kinds of cultures and people, which in turn helped inspire his love for writing and acting. You can follow Majd on Instagram.