|On Dec 23 my friend Ben, and three of his friends, traveled from Beirut to Ramallah. They got held up at the bridge for 6 hours, and were only given 7 day visas, but they made it eventually. On Christmas Eve we traveled to Beit Lehem – after all, where else would you spend Christmas Eve in Palestine? We stayed at the Arab Women’s Union Hostel in Beit Sahour, which is a great, cheap place to stay as long as you aren’t too picky about hot water. We walked from Beit Sahour to Manger Square in the early afternoon; at that point it was still sunny, although cold. We caught the end of the parade, which consisted of boy and girl scouts and a marching band. Unfortunately, you had to reserve tickets in advance to attend the midnight mass in the Church of the Nativity (they are free), and we didn’t realize that we needed reservations in time to get them. Our plan was to hang out in Manger Sq., enjoy the festivities and try to sneak into the church around midnight.|
It was a good plan, until the weather changed. Freezing rain does not really promote standing outdoors for 8 hours. So, we alternated between sitting in coffee shops to thaw/dry out and hanging out in the Peace Center which is where the performances had been moved because of the weather. The Peace Center was also freezing, but it was dry, so we were all happy to settle down in there . . . until we realized that the Peace Center was only allowing internationals and VIP Palestinians inside to take shelter from the cold and wet.
(As an aside, I’m writing this in Amman, and I’m listening to the WORST call to prayer I’ve ever heard. Ever.)
Of course, I felt horrible about staying inside the Peace Center after that, so I went outside again. Around 8pm we decided to attempt to get into the church. We snuck around the side of the church and made it to the door of the church just before the security guards blocked that entrance. I was standing in line, in the rain, ticketless and with no idea if they would let me in. While I was waiting the people around me were pushing and shoving, swearing, calling the priests names for making them wait outside . . . I left. I’m not a religious person at all, but the idea of spending Christmas Eve with people who were acting that way on the doorstep of the Church of the Nativity made me sick. If I had stayed, I would have gotten in – or at least I assume so because my friend Anselm made it in.
Also, after my experience at the Peace Center, I noticed that most of the people waiting with tickets to the midnight mass were internationals. Again, Palestinians were not allowed to participate unless they were VIPs. So, I went and got a cup of chicken soup and a beer, and then we decided that after all that time in the rain we could at least try to get into the church, even if we weren’t in the mass. Luckily, they let us in just before midnight, so I hung out with my friends and a bunch of Palestinians in the main hall of the Church of the Nativity. We found a place were we could head part of the mass, and I was surprised to find that it was Arabic. I guess I thought that it would be in Arabic. Then we went down to the place where Jesus was born . . . After that we called it a night.