Last year many of the Christians in the Holy Land felt unable to celebrate Christmas as they normally did. There was the shock of too much suffering; how could they enter into the festive season when so many had lost their jobs, so many knew neighbours in their towns who were injured or even dead, and so many were unable to travel to visit family? As a result many Christians did not even put up Christmas decorations. Perhaps they were just too traumatized by the events of deaths, curfews, closures, roadblocks and the total upset of their normal lives. This year it is a bit different, but still the abnormal has hopefully not become normal. Many Christians have decided to express their faith in the celebration of Christmas. They have decided that they need Christmas to help nurture their faith by restating, that even in this difficult period of their history, they need to celebrate that the Word did become flesh and dwelt among their ancestors here in this land. This year I have seen Christmas decorations in homes and offices; this year more people in Jerusalem seem to be reaching out to bring some joy into their own lives and the lives of others. The Christmas carol service at St John's Eye Hospital in East Jerusalem was held on 14 December. just as it has always been for years; and a young girl, dressed as Santa Lucia, graced the darkened room with candles on her head, the only other lights coming from a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. Carols were in Arabic, English and Norwegian. Then, the following evening, there was a benefit dinner for Bethlehem University at the American Colony hotel...and an international English speaking "Friends of the University group" was established. The university was badly damaged during the Israeli invasion last October. Soon some members of the English speaking Catholic community which gathers on Saturday evenings for a Mass in English will soon be travelling to the orphanage in Bethlehem, bringing Christmas gifts for the children there. I do not know if the people of Bethlehem are going to be able to celebrate. There will be a Midnight Mass in Bethlehem, but during Christmas Day it is feared that even foreigners will not be allowed entry into the town...though at present they are able to enter. The wait and see aspect of Advent has more than one meaning here in the land of Jesus' birth.
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