By Judith Sudilovsky
Catholic News Service

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNS) — Though the Christmas tree was lit in Nativity Square in the traditional ceremony, and some traditional pre-Christmas parades have taken place, the Christmas spirit this year in Bethlehem has been dampened by the political situation which, since October, has taken the lives of almost 100 Palestinians and 22 Israelis.

Few pilgrims are visiting the holy sites — or the souvenir shops that line Manger Square — and there is none of the customary festive caroling at the square in the evenings leading up to Christmas Eve. Hawkers who come from Hebron to sell Santa Claus hats and Christmas-themed headbands sit dejectedly on stone pillars, half-heartedly trying to sell their wares to locals who continue walking past them. It takes them more money for the taxi ride to Bethlehem than what they make during the day, said Jasan Zided, 38, who has six children to support.

One souvenir seller noted that while some pilgrim groups from Nigeria and East Asia are still visiting Bethlehem, the big spenders like the Russian groups are no longer coming, mainly because of their involvement in Syria and the November attack on the Russian airplane in Egypt.

Among the few pilgrims was Monica Reina, 47, from Madrid, who was on a group pilgrimage.  Catholic News Service

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