“Living in an environment where chaotic events go on all the time, can lead to feelings of hopelessness and depression.” Medical student Farah Masoud.
Today is the Orthodox Christmas Eve in Palestine — Friday 7th January. We asked Farah Masoud from Gaza and Lara Mitri from Bethlehem to share their experiences of the holiday season.
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Lara writes from Bethlehem
Christmas in Bethlehem for my family and me is always filled with energy, light, and warmth, no matter what the general situation looks like. Plans for Christmas have already started, my two sons, John, ten years old and George, almost eight have lots of ideas! They have already chosen their gifts and are counting how many they will get this year.
As a mother, I always make sure to have my kids feel the Christmas spirit. During this giving season, I teach them to save part of the money we give them to help a needy child with clothes or food. This way, they feel the meaning of giving and appreciate what they have.
We, as parents, also make sure to take part in as many Christmas activities as possible. We look for lots of events happening around Bethlehem. We can’t wait for the tree lighting ceremony, especially since we watched the celebration on TV last year due to the pandemic.
Christmas in Bethlehem for my family and me is always filled with energy, light, and warmth, no matter what the general situation looks like.
We try to attend lots of the events like the Christmas market, which will take place in Star Street this year, and we search for kids’ activities like Christmas arts and crafts workshops, the Scouts’ parades, and Christmas concerts and theatre shows. We also enjoy the popular customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends and, of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive.
December is so much fun, not only for the kids but also for the adults. Friends and family gatherings, decorating our house with Christmas tree decorations. The streets at night are full of lights. We like to drive around the city during the cold Christmas evenings to enjoy the Bethlehem decorations while listening to Christmas carols.
Perhaps the most famous part of Christmas in Bethlehem is the church service of the Mass of the Nativity. It is held on Christmas Eve afternoon/evening/midnight in the Nativity Church, which many of you will have visited. I remember my childhood house near the Nativity Church, where access to Manger Square during these events was easier. I used to enjoy all the celebrations taking place in the Square.
We like to drive around the city during the cold Christmas evenings to enjoy the Bethlehem decorations while listening to Christmas carols.
Living in Bethlehem and celebrating Christmas in the place where Jesus was born to me is a true blessing, regardless of limitations and challenges faced as a religious minority group. I believe that being rooted in Bethlehem brings hope to the rest of the world.
I always try to be a positive mother. Our lives as minority Palestinian Christians is getting harder every day. Leaving this holy place is not on our agenda, but our hope for this Christmas is to secure a decent future for our kids, a more settled life and be away from all the conflicts and traumas we face every day. Our children deserve a better future, a better education, and a better life.
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Farah writes from Gaza City
Living in an environment where chaotic events go on all the time, can lead to feelings of hopelessness and depression, which affect both your academic and personal life. However, growing up and living in such a place has taught me significant life lessons and led to my growth. I have realised that perseverance and determination are crucial to building character and achieving.
Maybe having part-time electricity or a very bad financial situation, with minimum wages that are not always paid, is terrible. Still, this place — Gaza, is not as terrible as some think. We still manage to maintain and operate the fundamentals of a civilised city.
...growing up and living in such a place has taught me significant life lessons and led to my growth. I have realised that perseverance and determination are crucial to building character and achieving.
I went to UN schools for elementary and secondary grades, attending the same school throughout helped establish long-term relationships with friends and teachers. I was top of my class almost every year until I graduated from high school with a score that allowed me to attend medical school. After graduating and getting my Bachelor’s degree, I now aspire to continue my education outside Gaza (in the UK, US, or Germany) and come back home to help my people, especially in times of war when there aren’t enough doctors to help the injured.
Lighting candles in Manger Square, Bethlehem
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Here in Gaza, we don’t necessarily celebrate Christmas as it’s traditionally celebrated elsewhere, by sharing gifts or having days off as holidays. Instead, there is a kind of religious atmosphere in some places.
In the middle or beginning of December, we start decorating the big streets and shopping malls, and some families decorate their houses with lights and decorations. Some restaurants and venues have overnight parties. However, most people don’t usually attend them. Like me, they spend this time at home watching films like ‘Home Alone’, drinking hot chocolate and having a good time with my family.
Some Christian schools organise trips to The Church of Saint Porphyrius, the oldest active church in Gaza with its rectangular shape and half-domed roof.
My family and I, as do so many people around the world, enjoy watching Palestinians in Bethlehem and Jerusalem on TV saying their prayers and spiritual ceremonies. We look forward to seeing the atmosphere in these holy cities.
Some restaurants and venues have overnight parties. However, most people don’t usually attend them. Like me, they spend this time at home watching films like ‘Home Alone’, drinking hot chocolate and having a good time with my family.
My neighbourhood is one of the oldest areas with small lanes and tightly packed households dedicated to the Christian community. We used to play after school in that neighbourhood, and people were so friendly and willing to play with us. At Christmas, they made delicious middle eastern desserts called el-burbara — it really tastes very good. They would send it with their children to their neighbours, with a cute Merry Christmas message.
Thanks for reading. God bless you all. Merry Christmas!