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Here comes St. Nick – Celebrating Saint Nicholas Feast in his hometown of Beit Jala

17 December, 201117 December, 2011 1 comments Bethlehem Bethlehem

Looking for an 'off the beaten path' Christmas experience you can only find in the Holy Land?

How about Beit Jala?  The 19th of December is a special day for the residents of Beit Jala as they join together to celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of the city, who lived in one of the caves in Beit Jala.

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Who was Saint Nicholas and why did he live in Beit Jala?


Saint Nicholas was the 4th century saint and Bishop of Myra of the Byzantine Empire. He was well known for his good deeds and many amazing miracles. Beit Jala ranks as one of the many places in the world where Saint Nicholas became a patron saint. It is a little charming Christian town located next to Bethlehem.

Saint Nicholas Beit Jala Traveluja           Saint Nicholas Beit Jala Traveluja

It is believed that St. Nicholas resided in Beit Jala for four years during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He lived in a small cave on one of the hilltops in the town. It is believed that he chose Beit Jala in order to be close to the place of Jesus\'s birth, yet still keep a distance from people, as the monks generally do, and he therefore lived in a remote cave on a Beit Jala\'s hilltop.


Since ancient times, people of Beit Jala take St. Nicholas as their protector and they built a church over the cave where St. Nicholas lived. First, the  Persians destroyed the Church in the early 7th century, and later as well it was badly damaged many times, but it has been always rebuilt by the Christians of Beit Jala, who are masters in the art of stone-masonry.


Saint Nicholas Church Beit Jala Travelujah

Nowadays, there is a beautiful Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Nicholas (in Arabic kniset mar nikola) dating from 1925 A. D. The stone church is in a form of a cross and has a high belfry and silver dome. The inside walls and dome are covered with graceful paintings and drawings. The Iconostas, engraved from local cut stones, are considered a masterpiece of decorative icons. The cave currently houses an icon of St. Nicolas and an eternal flame remains lit in honour of him.


It is believed that St. Nicholas still continues to make miracles. A couple of years ago, there was a period when the land was suffered from a terrible drought. One woman remembers that one day everyone gathered inside the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church to pray for the gift of rain. "Before we reached our homes the rains came. I saw that rain with my own eyes." - She says.


St. Nicholas Feast - How do the locals celebrate?

Saint Nicholas Feast Beit Jala Travelujah


Every year, on the 19th of December (6th of December according to the Eastern Orthodox calendar - the date of the saints' death), thousands of people come to the Beit Jala to celebrate the St. Nicholas' Day Festival, honouring the town's patron. The day begins at 7:30 am with the St. Nicholas Liturgy, lasting until noon. The mass is usually followed by a great parade of local scout troupes and many social activities. Roman Catholics and Lutherans participate with the Greek Orthodox majority in the city-wide celebration.


St. Nicholas - the model for the Santa Claus


Note: Today, few people realize that the character of St. Nickolas, the 4th century Bishop, who had a reputation for secret gift-giving, is the model renowned worldwide as Santa Claus. His new name comes from his name of St. Nicholas in Dutch ‘Sinterklass'. Santa Claus is a character created by a combination of legendary, historical and folkloric aspects and is viewed differently depending on the culture.


What to do and where to stay in Beit Jala?

 


Beit Jala is a charming Palestinian town located two kilometres away from the Bethlehem and it offers a number of interesting attractions, restaurants and comfortable accommodations.


Recommended Sites:

Beit Jala Travelujah

Churches of Beit Jala are the finest examples of great art of stone-masonry and decoration. Beside the beautiful Orthodox Church of St. Nickolas, a person can see the Church of the Latin Seminary of Beit Jala, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Reformation and many more. Other highlights include the Cremisan Monastery of Don Bosco and the local winery, as well as the stroll in Beit Jala's Old Town are highly recommended.


Where to Eat:


To experience the best Arabic cuisine and atmosphere head to the ‘1890 Restaurant', located in Beit Jala's Old Town. The place takes its name from the date when the building was constructed. It was simply an old house with a unique interior that was recently renovated and transformed into a wonderful restaurant serving oriental meals. Another good choice is ‘Limoncello', located in front of the Nativity Hotel on Beit Jala's main road. It is a brand new restaurant with an international flavour. Diners have enjoy a vast arrau of international entrees, desserts and drinks.


Where to Stay:


The St. Nicholas Hotel (contact: 02-274-30-40 e-mail: snicloas@p-ol.com), is a popular choice in Beit Jala. Angel Hotel is a good accommodation located in the middle of the town, from where everything is at your fingertips. Another option good would be Abraham's Herbage, a cosy guest house of the Lutheran Church in Beit Jala.


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Beata M. Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.



 

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Beata
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Bethlehem is my new home since September 2010. This charming town in the Holy Land is definitely worth a visit! Discover Bethlehem with my blog :-) Other places are coming soon...

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