Revered in the Christian world as the birthplace of Jesus Christ, Bethlehem at Christmas this year is unlike any other. Pilgrims and tourists usually flock to Palestine’s West Bank town to attend Christmas Eve Mass and mingle at Manger Square, but this year it is a quieter, scaled-down celebration because of COVID-19.
Bethlehem last year received more than three million tourists; this year its hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops are empty, even the tourist information office is closed.
“We ask people to go and pray with the faith, for God to give us a miracle and finish this virus, and everything will turn back as it was before,” a local tourist guide told CNN.
The whole world came during Christmas last year. But I’m now hardly making enough money to put food on the table. This is a disastrous situation.
“The coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on Christmas at the place where it is said to have all begun,” the New York Times reported. There were only a few people that attended the tree-lighting ceremony in Manger Square in early December, “an event that usually heralds the metamorphosis of the quiet West Bank town of Bethlehem into one of the main seasonal attractions of international Christendom.”
“There is usually nowhere to sit this time of the year,” said the owner of the Bethlehem Hotel, as he was pictured in its empty restaurant with a mural of The Last Supper. He had to lay off 78 of his 80 employees.
“The whole world came during Christmas last year,” Sami Khamis, owner of a tea shop near Manger Square, told NYT. “But I’m now hardly making enough money to put food on the table. This is a disastrous situation.”
The BBC reported that despite unemployment due to lack of Christian pilgrims, some businesses, like souvenir shops, profited from online sales.
Jack Giacaman, owner of the Christmas House Shop, said, “All the people, before Christmas they remembered Bethlehem and they wanted to buy something. Today, I'm shipping all over—to New Zealand, Canada, England."
As of December, 1,200 Palestinians have died from COVID-19, according to government reports.