JERUSALEM – Bethlehem awoke on Advent Sunday in the midst of Christmas celebrations which began over the weekend with the lighting of a large tree in front of the Church of the Nativity.
A wooden relic thought to be a fragment of Jesus’ manger was also returned to Jerusalem from the Vatican after 1,000 years in Europe.
Advent is the fundamental idea that Jesus is coming, Franciscan Artemio Vitores told EFE.
A parish mass to light a special candle to mark the four Sundays of Advent that precede Christmas is a great event in the Holy Land, the Franciscan added.
On Saturday, thousands of people visited the Manger Square to witness the lighting of the tree, an event that beyond its festive nature is the first of a multitude of Christmas celebrations in the Holy Land and Bethlehem where according to Christian tradition, Jesus Christ was born more than 2,000 years ago.
People also flocked to view the ancient wooden relic believed to have been part of Jesus’ manger, which arrived on Saturday in the city and was exhibited in the Church of Saint Catherine, adjacent to the Basilica of the Nativity.
The small piece of wood that, according to Christian tradition, belongs to the cradle where the Virgin Mary placed Jesus as a child over, returned to the Holy Land from Rome after Pope Francis donated it.
The tree lighting ceremony began with the scouts of Bethlehem singing a Palestinian hymn as well as local orchestras and different musical groups, both Palestinian and international, taking part in the Christmas carols event.
Also present were the mayor of the city, Anton Salman, and the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mohamed Shtayeh, who addressed the group which included pilgrims who had arrived from different parts of the world.
Salman conveyed a message of joy and hope to the attendees, and said he hoped that next year they could celebrate the occasion in a free and independent Palestinian state.
The moment of turning the lights on was accompanied by the illumination of the whole square and the church.
The Christmas tree was adorned with colorful baubles and garlands that will light up Bethlehem during the December nights.