Special Christmas in Palestine: Cradle of Jesus Characterizes Holidays for Palestinians This Year
Occupied Palestine – Christian communities in occupied Palestine are preparing to celebrate Christmas. This year’s celebrations are made all the more special by a tiny fragment of wood that has been returned to the Holy Land after many centuries. The wooden relic is believed to be part of the manger of the baby Jesus and recently arrived in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity.
Christians view the manger as a symbol of peace. Its holiness derives from its connection with the Holy Land, specifically the grotto housed in the church of Bethlehem.
The Custody of the Holy Land recently received the piece of the manger, which had been removed from the Middle East and taken to Rome's Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore [St Mary Major] in the 7th century. Pope Francis returned the wooden fragment earlier this month.
The wooden relic is no more than 2.5 centimeters long and one centimeter wide. It was preserved at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome before being delivered to the pastor of the Bethlehem church in the West Bank.
Its return was requested by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
"The return of part of the manger to the Palestinian people is a great blessing because of its importance among Palestinian Christians, especially since it is coming from the largest of the Virgin Mary’s churches in Italy," said Father Ibrahim Falats, Counselor of the Custody of the Holy Land in Palestine.
Father Falats pointed out that this was the first time in 1300 years that a piece of the manger was returned.
He recalled how the cradle was sent to the Vatican as a gift from the Patriarch of Jerusalem [al-Quds] St. Sophronius to Pope Theodore I, who was of Palestinian origin.
For his part, the head of the Bethlehem municipality, Anton Salman, said the sacred relic characterizes this year’s Christmas celebrations and differentiates it from all others.
Salman added that the piece of the manger will be handed over to the Custody of the Holy Land Franciscan fathers. It will be placed in the Franciscan Church of St. Catherine next to the Church of the Nativity.
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Christians in Palestine constitute 1% of the population. They start their celebrations on December 25th of each year.