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July 29, 2011July 29, 2011  22 comments  Bethlehem

In the heart of Bethlehem, just few minutes' walk from Manger Square, there is a beautiful chapel of Margaret Sitti Mariam, "Grotto of the Lady Mary", commonly known as "the Milk Grotto". It is said that the Milk Grotto was the place where the Holy Family found shelter during the Slaughter of the Innocents, before their flight into Egypt. Mary and Joseph decided to stay there until they knew that their newborn baby, Jesus, would be safe from King Herod's soldiers.


A church was built over the grotto in the 5th century. As well, the reminants of a beautiful mosaic found in the courtyard of the grotto are believed to be from this time period.


The grotto's name is derived from the belief, that a drop of Mary's milk felt down onto the ground of the cave and turned it completely white. In fact, the milky white rock covering the grotto's interior has a magical power. For ages, childless woman of many religions have made a pilgrimage to the Milk Grotto, in order to ask for the gift of an offspring. Some of the pilgrims will take the stone powder with them and give it to the people who cannot have children.


Strong beliefs and prayer really can create miracles as demonstrated by the tens of thousands of people who have taken a sample of the milk powder home with them People are suppose to mix a pinch of the powder of Milk Grotto's rock with water or milk after which spouses should drink the mixture. If they are Catholic they should pray the Holy Rosary together. While saying the third joyful mystery - "The Nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem" - they are to pray for a gift of an offspring.


And the angel said unto them: "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger". (Luke 2,6-12)


If the spouses are of another religion they should simply pray with their own words to the Virgin Mary.


While passing the church's gate and turning left one can find a small room full of photographs of many little babies held by their happy parents. The room was created to display evidence of the power of the "White Stone of Miracles" and to expose the letters of gratitude from new parents and their families. The letters found within are in many different languages and each includes a picture of their gift from the Virgin Mary, the photo of a long-awaited child. The miracle of the milk grotto has created ecstatic parents from many religious backgrounds and from all around the world.


Between the letters I found one from a Polish lady called Janina. She came with her husband on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and during her visit to the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem she discovered the room of the "Miracle Babies". Knowing that her son and his wife could not have a baby for a long time, she thought that the prayer to the Virgin and the holy power of the grotto's stone could be a chance. So she decided to take a piece of the milky rock with her to Poland and give it to her daughter in law. Her grateful letter is one of the best testimonies for Mary's great miracle. Janina writes that finally her first granddaughter, Lidia, was born.

 

Letters from the Grateful Parents


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

 


August 9, 2011August 9, 2011  0 comments  Bethlehem

The Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem is one of the most important destinations for pilgrims visiting the Holy Land; it is the cradle of Christianity and one of the earliest Christian structures in the world. This site is so important for the followers of Christianity because of the fact that the church was built exactly over the cave where the baby Jesus was born in 1 A.D.


"4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son." (Luke 2:4-7)


For me, as a Christian, every visit to the Nativity Church and the Grotto has a great spiritual meaning and is always an amazing experience. I like its peaceful, perfect for a prayer, quiet atmosphere and the feeling of the eternity of this place. But of course, the monastery possesses great importance for non-Christian visitors who are interested in its historical and architectural values.


The building has a long and rich history. The construction of the basilica was started in 327 A.D. by Saint Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine I - the first emperor converted to Christianity. The construction was supervised by Bishop Makarios of Jerusalem and was completed in 333. Unfortunately, the whole structure was burned down in the Samaritan Revolt of 529, but then the building was replaced by a larger Basilica in 565 by the Emperor Justinian I. Later, during the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Crusaders made further repairs and additions to the building. With time, the complex has been enlarged, and today it covers approximately 12,000 square meters.


Probably some of us looking at the Nativity Church from outside could ask the question - Why the Basilica is so huge and why does it have as much as thee belfries? I guess the people who ask this question are just unaware of the fact that the basilica is actually a complex of three churches. In 1852, shared custody of the church was given to the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian churches, so all the fractions began to maintain their monastic communities on the site of the basilica. Today the monastery is surrounded by the Franciscan convent in the north, the Greek Orthodox convent in the southeast and the Armenian convent in the southwest and every of the convents have their own belfry.

 

The building of the Nativity Church is from the Justinian times and is now used by the Greek Orthodox Church as the parish church for the Arab orthodox community of Bethlehem, however the Armenian Church oversees a smaller chapel next to the primary altar. In the 15th century the basilica was expanded and the Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria was added, and it was later enlarged in 1881. Nowadays, the Roman Catholic community, through the custodianship of the Franciscan Brotherhood, is responsible for the St. Catherine's Church and the subterranean chapels believed to be used by Saint Jerome in the late Roman era.


Accordingly, since 1852, the three separate denominations have created a common place of prayer and they join in caring for the Nativity Church and the Nativity Grotto despite the fact that the grotto is under the Greek Orthodox part of the church. In keeping with their respective beliefs and rituals, each convent celebrates their specific mass according to a fixed schedule.

 

The Three Belfries of the Nativity Church in Bethlehem

 

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

 


this blog only for friends
September 23, 2011September 23, 2011  0 comments  Bethlehem

Just imagine the scene: A beautifully decorated car, with a bride in a white wedding dress, stops in front of a church. The bride steps on the ground and then she walks slowly with her father toward the basilica...

Wedding Bells sound at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

This description suits most brides and most weddings... but the description of my wedding was quite different.


A beautifully decorated car, with a bride wearing a white gorgeous wedding dress, stops in front of the magnificent Nativity Church in Bethlehem. The bride steps on the ground of the Nativity and walks slowly with her father toward the basilica. They pass the Door of Humility and walk among the 5th century columns in the direction of the St. Catherina Church...

Inside of the church I got an incredible feeling of happiness. A couple of years ago I would never have imagined getting married in such an important and holy place as the birth place of Jesus Christ.


My father led me to the entrance of the St. Catherine Church - where my fiancé, Johny, along his brother George (our witness) and dozens of guests were waiting. My father greeted Johny and passed me to him - so that we could enter St. Catherines Church together as bride and groom.

Wow! Even more people were waiting inside the church and the place was beautifully decorated with white flowers and ribbons. When the organs started to play we entered the church, with a little boy and girl in front of us holding the rings, then George and my sister, Eve - our witnesses - and then us - Beata & Johny.


The atmosphere inside the St. Catherine Church was breathtaking - I would never imagine that my marriage could look better. All the people, gathered together to celebrate this beautiful moment with us, the overwhelming magnificence of the Nativity Church and our love strengthened with the sacrament of Matrimony - everything on that day was perfectly harmonized.

 

Wedding Bells sound at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

The priest began the mass with a blessing of beautiful spiritual words and the sign of the cross. He announced us as the husband and the wife. After we took our marriage oath, we exchanged the rings and the Eucharist in front of the main altar, and we went with the priest to another little altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary. We prayed to the Virgin and gave Her a beautiful bouquet of flowers to thank Her for caring for us.

After the ceremony everybody wanted to congratulate us and say mabrook (in Arabic congratulations).
Then came the time to celebrate! We organized a big wedding party for 300 guests. For me and my European guests, it was quite large however... according to the locals the wedding was small -some Palestinian weddings can be for more than 1000 guests!


We entered the wedding hall and immediately all the guests began to dance around us to the beat of the Arabic songs. Everybody was cheerful and excited to celebrate - and me and my husband did not have a moment to rest.


In planning our wedding we decided to include certain Palestinian wedding traditions:


Zafeht el-Aruz - Girls celebrating the bride - The bride and the girls enter the wedding hall each holding beautifully decorated candles. Of course, the two candles of the bride are the biggest and the most stunning. Later all the girls gather and dance around the bride until the groom and his men enter the hall.

Zafet el-Areez - Men celebrating the groom - The men enter the wedding hall with the groom on their shoulders. Everybody sings and celebrates the groom. The men put on their traditional Arabic headpieces, the Koffeyeh, - a characteristic black-white scarf and hold wooden sticks.

The whole experience was truly a moment I'll never forget and I'm sure everyone there felt the same way. Attending and participating in a Palestinian wedding is a unique experience and if you are ever invited to one, make sure you accept. There is no better way to feel a culture than to experience it firsthand.

Wedding Bells sound at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

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


November 16, 2011November 16, 2011  0 comments  Bethlehem

"Casa Nova" is a charming Franciscan Pilgrim House situated in Bethlehem. It stands exactly on the side of the Basilica of the Nativity, the monastery which was built over the grotto where Jesus Christ was born over 2000 years ago. The House lies on the square facing the entrance to the St. Catherine Church and the the entrance to the Nativity Church, also known as the "door of humility" because to enter it one must bend down low.

Casa Nova Pilgrim House Bethlehem

Casa Nova belongs to the Franciscan Order and caters primarily to the Franciscan pilgrims, but all the visitors are most welcome. The hotel is a perfect place for anyone who would like to experience the spiritual atmosphere of the Holy Land and immerse in the past of Bethlehem. 


The pilgrim house is the building most proximate to the famous and ancient Christian holy site in the world. The stay in Casa Nova leaves an unforgettable memory of the sacred pilgrimage and the time that has passed very close to the cradle of the Christ.


Casa Nova Pilgrim House Bethlehem


Casa Nova blends into its surrounding environment so much that one could have a feeling that it has been here forever. However, prior to the first half of the 19th century pilgrim houses and inns were not common in Bethlehem and visitors stayed with local families in their homes. Later, the individual pilgrimages to the Holy Land became more popular and organized groups became increasingly frequent.. The Franciscan Order responded to this growing need in 1870 when an entire wing of their friary was redesigned and partly rebuilt to function as a pilgrim guest house.


Casa Nova Pilgrim House Bethlehem


It was quickly apparent that there was a much greater need for guest rooms and, as a result, in 1908 Casa Nova was opened. On April 28th 1986 the new Casa Nova, which is completely independent of the friary was blessed and inaugurated. In the entrance to the building there is a beautiful mosaic, a reminder of the date of the pilgrim's house inauguration.


The guesthouse has grown to be a complex of two buildings - the Pilgrim's House and the Casa Nova Palace. Both of the places offer neat comfortable rooms (single, double and triple), gastronomic service, chapel and access to the Internet. The reception is open 24 hours a day.


Casa Nova Pilgrim House Bethlehem


Casa Nova Palace offers an oriental atmosphere with an arabesque decor, reflecting the local Middle Easter Arabic culture. The lobby has a cozy bar, where one can enjoy desserts and beverages. The Oriental Palace also has a garden café, where guests can have a meal with an oriental touch as well as cakes and coffee. While many guests are attracted to Casa Nova, the guesthouse is renowned to pilgrims worldwide who seeking a spiritual experience when visiting the Holy Land. The pilgrim house also offers special services to meet the needs of travelers including guided tours and car service to and from the Ben Gurion airport.


Reservations are generally required several months in advance, particularly during feast celebrations.


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.


November 25, 2011November 25, 2011  0 comments  Bethlehem

Each year, as we approach the joyful atmosphere of the Christmas season, hearing and singing the Christmas carols being played on the radio, in the malls and throughout the stores, we can't help but think of Bethlehem - the place of Jesus' birth. But ... this year, don't just think of Bethlehem - BE in Bethlehem! Is there anything better than spending the Christmas season where Christ was born??


Undoubtedly, Bethlehem is singularly important with its historical place in history and people around the world hold a special place for this small city.

Holy Family

The Three Wise Man came here to the humbly manger, to worship the little baby Jesus and give him the precious gifs of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came [...] (Matthew 2: 1)


This year, join the people of Bethlehem and share your Christmas holidays with local Christians. Plenty of amazing Christmas attractions and spiritual experiences are waiting for you in Bethlehem where "it all began".


Beginning in the November, you can admire the beautiful Christmas lights erected throughout Bethlehem's Old City and of course, more and more decorations will appear over the next few weeks. The season officially begins on the 27th of November - the day of the Christmas Market prepared by the Peace Center, located on the Manger Square. The market will present a range of Christmas decorations, trees, lights, foods and much more.


Two masses (at 7:30 am and 10:00 am) will also occur on this same day to celebrate the feast of St. Catherine, the patroness of the Catholic church of the St. Catherine, located just on the site of the Nativity Church.


On the 15th of December, the first day of Novena of Christmas, there will be a solemn lightning of the Christmas tree in front of the Basilica of the Nativity, on the Manger Square. This will be a time of a great celebration followed with singing and numerous fireworks. The Christmas tree of Beit Sahour, famous for it Shepherds' Fields, will be lit on the 17th of December at 4pm, next to the Catholic Church.

Christmas Tree Beit Sahour

On the 19th of December, the feast of St. Nickolas (Santa Claus) is going to be celebrated in Beit Jala - a small city next to Bethlehem, the place where St. Nickolas used to live for some period of his life. The holiday is going to be accompanied by a parade of local scouts - a very special site.


Several Christmas concerts will commence during that time. There is an annual tradition of a carol choir singing on the Manger Square on Christmas Eve. This year, the Evangelical-Lutheran Christmas Church will host a series of short Christmas concerts each hour, beginning from 7pm. There is also something for the less conventional visitors - Rock to Bethlehem concert, presenting international rock music on Saturday 16th of November on the Manger Square.

Bethlehem star

Every year on the 24th December at 1pm there is a ceremonial welcoming of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. The great festive scout parade of scouts marches through the Star Street - the way Mary and Joseph and later the Wise Man arrived to the Nativity Grotto located inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.


A very special experience is the annual Midnight Mass in the Basilica of the Nativity on the Christmas Eve (24th of December). The mass symbolises the act of waiting for the miracle of Christ's birth. People gather in the church to pray and spend this great moment together. Due to the overwhelming popularity of the event, only visitors who've received a special entrance ticket will be allowed to enter the Midnight Mass at the Church.


In addition there is a Christmas mass on 25th of December inside the Saint Catherine Church, adjacent to the Church of the Nativity.


Bethlehem is inhabited by Christians of many different denominations which follow different calendars as well. Christmas day is celebrated in Bethlehem couple of times, Catholic and Protestant denominations will celebrate the holiday on the 25th of December; Armenians will celebrate on the 6th of January; while Orthodox Christmas falls on the 7th of January.

Bethlehem Christmas

 

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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.


March 13, 2012March 13, 2012  0 comments  Bethlehem

Every Friday during Lent, Catholic Christians of Bethlehem gather in different places of the town to perform the spiritual Way of the Cross, which commemorates the final events of Christ's crucifixion - which also happened on a Friday. The Via Dolorosa consists of 14 Stations which represent Jesus' final walk through the streets of Jerusalem, carrying the Cross.


During the procession the faithful move from one "station" to the next and stop to pray at each. They ‘follow' the way Jesus walked towards Golgotha.


1. Jesus is condemned to death.
2. Jesus accepts the cross.
3. Jesus falls the first time.
4. Jesus meets His Mother.
5. Simon of Cyrene carries the cross.
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
7. Jesus falls the second time.
8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.
9. Jesus falls the third time.
10. Jesus is stripped of His garments.
11. Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross.
12. Jesus dies on the cross.
13. Jesus' body is removed from the cross.
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb and covered in incense.


The tradition of the Stations of the Cross originated in medieval Europe. European painters and sculptors created artworks representing the scenes of Christ's journey to Calvary. The believers installed the art pieces inside churches as well as outdoors at various intervals along a procession route.


Way of the Cross on Bethlehem's Graveyard


Way of the Cross Via Dolorosa Bethlehem Travelujah

On Friday (09.03) of the third week of the Lent Period 2012, Bethlehem residents gathered on the Catholic cemetery, situated just behind the Milk Grotto's chapel in Bethlehem's Old Town. For this occasion, the Franciscan brothers of St. Catherine Church prepared an outdoor space for the procession and marked the Stations of the Cross with simple prints representing the events of Jesus' crucifixion. The 'stations' were placed along the path leading to the cemetery's chapel in memory of family members.

When I arrived at the cemetery, people were already praying the Rosary to keep the memory and to thank God for the Sorrowful Mysteries related to the Way of the Cross and Christ's crucifixion. I joined them in prayer to the Virgin Mary for Her protection and help in reconciliation with Her Son. "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen" (Hail Marys Prayer).

Way of the Cross Via Dolorosa Bethlehem Travelujah


Then the mass began and the leading priest read from the Holy Bible: "What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?" Pilate asked them. "Crucify him!" they shouted. "Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!" (Mark 15:12-15) Those words began the Way of the Cross and reminded us about the order of crucifying the Christ. When the words were read, all the people knelt, to show the respect. At each stop along the procession we knelt.


Than we moved to the second station and the priest read: "Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha)." (John 19:17)

Way of the Cross Via Dolorosa Bethlehem Travelujah


We followed our "Via Dolorosa" and at the last station in front of the cemetery's chapel we prayed for the people who passed away. Father Marwan mentioned that death is a part of everybody's life and it is one of the ways to become closer to God and His Kingdom of Heaven. It was a beautiful moment, yet sad for those gathered in remembrance of their lost loved ones.

Later, came time for inaugurating the newly reopened cemetery's church. The interior of the chapel from 1888 A. D. had been renovated. Some of us entered the church, which was sanctified and sprinkled with Holy Water. Water was also sprinkled also on the heads of some of the believers to remind us about our baptism.

Way of the Cross Via Dolorosa Bethlehem Travelujah

The services of the Way of the Cross are often finalized with common food sharing. The Franciscan brothers distributed sweet buns, considered a traditional food served after Palestinian Christian funerals.


The Lent period is going to last for one more month. All of us are waiting for the joyful Easter, which marks last day of the Lent and commemorates Jesus' Resurrection.


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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.


August 3, 2012August 3, 2012  1 comments  Bethlehem

“Where the Lord Jesus was born there a basilica was built on Constantine’s command.”  That’s how the 4th century anonymous pilgrim from France describes in his writings the world famous Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which in late June 2012 became one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.


Emperor Constantine’s church was built on the site of the Nativity Grotto and was completed in 339 A.D. The construction was initiated by the mother of the emperor, St. Helena, who converted to Christianity. But how did she know this spot was the site of Jesus’s birth?


According to the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who ruled from 117-138 A.D.,  it was not difficult to spot the site since people marked many of the Christian holy sites with idols. In one of the letters from late 4th century, St. Jerome writes: “[…] and in the very cave where the infant Christ had uttered His earliest cry lamentation was made for the paramour of Venus." (Jerome, Letter 58. To Paulinus, 3, 400 A.D.)

 

The foundations of the Basilica of the Nativity include the octagonal shape of the Roman temple.

 

Basilica of the Nativity Bethlehem Travelujah

Pilgrims touching the foundations of the Basilica of the Nativity - Remaining of the Roman temple of Venus.


In 530 A.D. Emperor Justinian enlarged the church and ordered the building of a so called a trilobite apse, which consisted of two smaller apses within a curve of one larger apse, creating the shape of a cross.

 

Basilica of the Nativity Bethlehem Travelujah

One of the smaller apses, seen from outside.


During the 12th century, the Crusaders fully redecorated the basilica’s interior and the frescos of the saints were painted on its columns.


The Nativity Grotto

 

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod […] (Matt. 2:1)

According to a legend, the grotto where Jesus was born was a stable of an inn, where the Mary and Joseph had to spend their night, as there were no vacant rooms in the guesthouse.

 

At the present times the grotto is shared on couple of smaller caves. In one of them there is a small altar of the Nativity with a silver star at the base. Engraved into the star are Latin words which state that Jesus was born around that spot.


Buildings around the Basilica

 

Many different buildings comprise of complex of the Nativity Church. Among them is the St. Catherine’s Church, dedicated in 1347 A.D. Since that time, the ancient Crusader’s structure has undergone several modifications and expansions. Today, the site is under the custody of the Franciscan brothers.

 

Basilica of the Nativity Bethlehem Travelujah

Altar of the St. Jerome’s chapel


Underneath the St. Catherine’s church, one can find a small chapel dedicated to  St. Jerome, the person who translated Bible into Latin (Vulgata), and who used to live in the nearby grottos in the 4th/5th century. His statue is also placed in front of the entrance to St. Catherine’s church.

 

Basilica of the Nativity Bethlehem Travelujah

Statue of St. Jerome


Plan your visit to Bethlehem

 

There are a number of ways to visit Bethlehem and see the amazing treasures of the Basilica of the Nativity.  

By Bus: You can take Bus 21 from the Damascus Gate to Bethlehem and be met there by a local guide or tour independently.

By Car: With a rental car from an Arab rental car company you can drive to Bethlehem and cross into Bethlehem at Rachel's Crossing

By Tour: There is a daily one day Jerusalem and Bethlehem Tour, a one day Bethlehem and Jericho tour that is offered on  Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, and a one half day Bethlehem Tour offered daily. All of these tours are fully guided group bus or van tours and include pick up and drop off at a number of major hotels in both cities.


When to go?

 

For a better spiritual experience go in the early morning or late afternoon. The basilica is being visited by hundreds of pilgrims a day and the midday is the busiest time.

 

Opening Hours: Summer (April – September) 6:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.; Winter (October – March) 5:30 a.m. –5:00 p.m. Notes: Grotto is closed on Sunday morning, it opens in the afternoon. During the Sunday’s morning the St. Church is closed for sightseeing due to the masses.

 

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


December 9, 2012December 9, 2012  0 comments  Bethlehem

Gospel of Luke mentions Nazareth in Galilee to be the place where Virgin Mary was told by the Angel Gabriel that she would bore Jesus. Also there, she married Joseph. However, it was in the town of Bethlehem where Jesus was born. One can ask: Why spouses decided to walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem, while Virgin Mary was in such an advanced pregnancy? That was indeed a long journey, which might have taken them from four up to seven days. The answer can be found in the Biblical verses:

 

"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. […] And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child" (Luke 2:1-5).

 

Nativity Trail Travelujah - Sculpture of the Baby Jesus in the St. Catherine Church of the Nativity Church in Bethlehem

 

Joseph was obliged to leave Nazareth for Bethlehem as he did not want to risk being punished for not paying the tax. And probably it was God’s will which made him to take also Mary, so Micah’s prophecy about upcoming Messiah, could be fulfilled: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)  

 

Which path?

 

The exact way which Mary and Joseph took to get from Nazareth to Bethlehem is not described in any of the Gospels. Hoverer, according to the writings of the ancient historian Josephus Flavius: "It is the custom of the Galileans at the time of festival to pass through the Samaritan territory on their way to the Holy City." So we can suppose that the couple might have taken a way which they usually took to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.

 

Nativity Trail Travelujah - View on the Jezrael Valley

 

They might have descended from Nazareth trough Jezreel Valley to Samaria and from there to Jerusalem and Bethlehem in Judea. Probably, on their way, they were hosted by various people as at those times, in the Near East, it was a common tradition to overnight the travellers. “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.”  (1 Peter 4:9)

 

There exists also another theory that because of continuous conflicts between Samaritans and Jews, Mary and Joseph might have chosen the way through Jordan Valley to avoid meeting the people of Samaria. But if they would have followed this way, would they pass through Jerusalem?

 

Nativity Trail Travelujah - View on the Jordan Valley

 

According to the Protoevangelium of James, ruins of the octagonal in shape Kathisma (Greek for “seat” or “chair”) church from the 5th century, located on the way between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, mark the place where Mary rested before reaching Bethlehem.

 

Hiking the Nativity Trail

 

Several times a year the Siraj Centre for Holy Land Studies organizes tours along a  possible path that the Holy Couple might have followed, known as the Nativity Trail. The trail traverses160 km pasing thru beautiful, tho sometimes rough terrains, rocky hillsides, desert valleys and the multiple always-green olive groves, where  hikers have an opportunity to rest just as Mary and Joseph did.

 

The trail stops in the Biblical townsof Nazareth, Nablus (ancient Shechem), Jericho and Bethlehem, as well as smaller villages along the way.

Nativity Trail Travelujah - Olive Groves of the West Bank

 

During the journey, hikers are able to experience local hospitality and stay in villagers' homes, Christian monasteries, local B&Bs, Bedouin tents, etc.

 

 

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


December 19, 2012December 19, 2012  0 comments  Bethlehem

Christmas is a time of celebration and reunion. Thus, it is a common practice among Holy Land Christian communities to visit members of their families and neighbours during this festive period. The families visit in two groups – one family will visit  while another is hosting guests at home.

 

When entering a home, it is appropriate for the guest to admire all the beautiful Christmas decorations, lights, Christmas tableware, and, of course, the very decorative Christmas trees with mghrara – a cave representing the Nativity scene, made from colorful paper and containing olive wood figures of the Holy Family, Magi and shepherds etc.

 

Christmas Tree Travelujah

 

Mamoul and Ghraibeh Cookies

 

In many houses, the hostess will display a big bowl of freshly baked Christmas cookies like mamoul or ghraibeh.

 

Mamould is a type of Middle Eastern butter cookie filled usually with date paste (ajweh), and typically prepared on religious holidays. The dough is made from semolina (smeed), which is a coarse, purified wheat middling of durum wheat. Other ingredients used to make mamoul include rose water and mistka spice which give it a very distinct taste. Some bakers will fill their mamoul cookies with walnuts or pistachios and then sprinkle them with powdered sugar.

 

Ghraibeh is another Middle Eastern shortbread sweet. Its main ingredients include semolina, pictachio nuts, butter, sugar and orange blossom. They are usually formed in as shape of a letter ‘S’ and decorated with one full pistachio nut.

 

 Christmas Tree Travelujah

 

Chocolate and Liqueur

 

Another tradition is to offer a Christmas chocolate, often in a shape of Santa Claus and a shot of a high quality liqueur, sweet wine or arak - an anise aperitif.

 

Traditionally, it is not polite to refuse anything offered, however it is acceptable to say no for an alcoholic drink. The chocolate or a cookie can be taken home for consumption later.

 

Goodbye Coffee

 

Traditional Arabic coffee is very strong, and therefore served in very small cups. It is usually freshly grounded with a couple of cardamon seeds, which makes it very aromatic. Offering coffee to a guest is a polite way of saying goodbye ‘ma’ salameh’. If a person offers a coffee at the beginning of a meeting, he needs to add that it is a welcome coffee ‘kahweh ahla w sahla’, otherwise a guest might understand that he is not welcome at the moment.

 

Qidreh or Melfouf

 

On the Christmas Day family members gather for a big meal together. Usually meals are very rich. It is common to prepare Qidreh, lamb meat cooked with rice in special wood fired oven. Often it can be ordered from places that specialize in making it. Qidreh is always served with leban, which is a thick yogurt.

 

Qidreh Travelujah

 

Some families prepare melfouf – rice mixed with minced meat rolled in cabbage leaves. The rolls are small in size, that is why this dish needs a lot of time and work, but it tastes delicious. Most of people like it topped with lemon juice to make it more sour.

 

Tempted? - Experience it!

 

Did you know that many Palestinian Christians from Bethlehem open their houses to the international visitors? If you would like to experience Christmas in Bethlehem, the town where Jesus was born, and make your visit even more interesting - stay with one of the Bethlehem’s families and learn about their traditions. For more information, contact the Visitor Information Center in Bethlehem by writing to vicbethlehem@gmail.com

 

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

 

 


January 1, 2013January 1, 2013  0 comments  Bethlehem

So Joseph [and Mary] also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem […] While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. (Luke 2:4-6)

 

Celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem, the town where Jesus was born, is a magical, once in a lifetime experience for many people. The fact that most Christmas events occur on Manger Square, just couple of meters from the Nativity Grotto – the place of Christ’s birth, makes it even more unique.

 

Last week, thousands of visitors came to Bethlehem to join local Christians in civic and church Christmas events.

 

Christmas Eve Bethlehem Travelujah

 

On the 24th of December, people gathered on the beautifully decorated Manger Square, in front of the ancient Basilica of the Nativity, to welcome the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal.

 

The parade of hundreds of scouts, presenting their musical skills, followed Star Street, believed to be the way Mary and Joseph took arrived to the Nativity Grotto. In June 2012, this street was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites together with the Nativity Church.

 

Christmas Eve Bethlehem Travelujah

 

In the early afternoon, the Patriarch arrived to walk on the specially prepared podium, lined with a red carpet and decorated with flowers. He was welcomed by the new Mayor of Bethlehem, Mrs. Vera Baboun, the representatives of different churches in the region, and many other important personalities. This year, His Eminence, instead of walking straight to the Nativity Church, stopped in the middle of the podium and greeted the people, prompting cheerful ovations among them.

 

Project Peace on Earth

 

The day continued with a special message of peace, unity and love coordinated by the Project Peace on Earth. With help of their instructions, children and scouts gathered on Manger Square formed a ‘peace sign’ and words ‘love all’.  This powerful message  went viral extremely fast.

 

Christmas Eve Bethlehem Travelujah

 

Christmas Eve Mass in the Nativity Church

 

The solemn Christmas Eve Mass is always celebrated at midnight between the 24th and 25th of December, which according to the Christian tradition symbolizes the day of the Christ’s birth.

 

Christmas Eve Bethlehem Travelujah

 

The Midnight Mass, lead by the Patriarch Fouad Twal and held inside the Franciscan church of St. Catherine, within the Nativity Church complex, required special passes, obtained by advance application in the Christian Information Center in Jerusalem. Those  lucky enough to securee tickets had the opportunity to experience this unique church ceremony, preceded by the scripture reading and common carols singing.

 

Many important officials were invited to attend the service, along with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

 

The mass was celebrated in many languages, as gathered believers were from all around the world. Nevertheless the main liturgical language was Latin, the official tongue of the Catholic Church. Patriarch’s homily was delivered in Arabic - his mother tongue, and papers with its translation were provided for all.

 

Christmas Eve Bethlehem Travelujah

 

The Patriarch began his speech with these words: ‘I greet you all from the Basilica of the Nativity, a few steps away from the grotto where the Blessed Virgin brought forth her admirable Son into the world.’ He also called for peace and the stability in the region saying: ‘Only justice and peace in the Holy Land can re-establish balance and stability in the region and in the world!’

 

Solemn procession to the Nativity Grotto, lead by the Patriarch holding a sculpture of a baby symbolizing Christ, concluded the liturgy.

 

Planning Christmas in Bethlehem: next year … or?

 

Christmas Eve Bethlehem Travelujah

 

Have you ever heard that the Christmas in the Holy Land is celebrated three times? It is because of the different liturgical calendars followed by the different Christian denominations of the Holy Land. Catholics and Protestants celebrate Christmas Day on the 25th of December, the Orthodox and Oriental Churches on the 7th of January and the Holy Land Armenians on the 18th of January.  As a result this special holiday season is celebrated for an extended period of time.

 

Attend the Christmas Eve Celebrations of Orthodox (6/01) and Armenian Churches (18/01) in Bethlehem, which will also feature scouts parades and midnight masses, which do not require any tickets.

 

Christmas period and especially days between 23rd and 26th of December mark a very high touristic season in Bethlehem. Thus, if you are planning to visit the town next year during that time, think about early accommodation booking.

 

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Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. 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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