PALESTINIAN CHRISTIAN scouts march in a procession as thousands await the arrival of the Latin patriarch at Manger Square in Bethlehem..
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
“Life is hard here. Christmas is a wonderful time of year; we look forward to it, but it doesn’t obscure the difficulties,” said Stephanie, the daughter of the owners of the cheerful Nirvana café in central Bethlehem.
She was walking home from the Christmas Eve parade. A member of a Salesian Catholic youth scout troop, she was dressed in a yellow outfit like thousands of other youth from across Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahur and Jerusalem who joined the annual Christmas Eve parade.
A 21-year-old student of sociology, her troop had been preparing for months for this occasion, a highlight of the year for local Christians, who remain a struggling minority of around 50,000 in the West Bank.
In the Bethlehem town center, billboards proclaimed the Christmas season, but many Muslim residents, who make up a majority of the city, went about business shopping as usual. Some stores were closed, especially those owned by Christians and decorated for the holiday.
Around Manger Square, hundreds of PA police and security officials had cordoned off a route for the patriarch’s procession and the scout troops. There was a noticeable absence of throngs of foreigners or pilgrims from abroad.
“Each Christmas is better than the last,” said Yusuf, whose family had come from nearby to watch.
But as the scout troops began their march, there was a lot of tussling to get a good view near the entrance to the church.
“I think half the Palestinian people are journalists suddenly today,” joked an onlooker as young men and women pleaded with the police to get past the barricades and get a front-row spot.
A Franciscan monk from Italy, wearing the traditional brown robes, complained that he was late for the choir. A tall woman from Scotland shouted that she was being jostled and that it was “chaos and pandemonium.”
After the patriarch made his way into the Church of the Nativity, a brawl broke out among scout troops. Chairs and drums were thrown, and drummers hit at each other with drumsticks.
The Palestinian police waded into the fight with batons, and the crowd sighed.
“What a shame,” said one man.
But another disagreed. “It’s a Christmas tradition. Every year they fight, for nothing, about nothing.”