The spiritual meaning of Bethlehem cannot be ignored for so many reasons. For such a small palace, Bethlehem holds a lot of significance. The Hebrew word “Bethlehem” has two parts. The first part is the usual word for house, but it has meanings of family. It can also mean a temple. “Bethel” in the Bible says, “House of God.”
The second part of Bethlehem is the word bread in Hebrew, but this bread is not without any importance. It is what Jesus talked about when he educated us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” This bread is the difference between life and death in this sentence.
According to Christians believe, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and the city attracts thousands of pilgrims during Christmas. Bethlehem is located just 10 Km away from Jerusalem. It holds many holy sites that belong to Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.
Sacred City for Three Religions
Bethlehem is the foundation of Christianity, according to Christians. The Church of the Nativity is the place that holds an underground cave where Christians believe that Mary gave birth to Jesus in the stable.
There is a 14 point Silver Star placed beneath the altar that marks the spot of birth. The stone church holds the same value among Christians and Muslims. Thousands of people from both religions visit this place. The southern wing of the church has been reserved for Muslims to pray.
Over time, the Church of the Nativity has been changed and sacked. Now it is being administrated jointly by the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic authorities.
Bethlehem holds value for Jews as well as it has the tomb of Rachel. Rachel was the wife of Jacob, who was Abraham’s grandson. After the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Tomb of Rachel is Judaism's third holiest site. The tomb of Rachel is also referred to as the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque and is sacred to Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
The tomb of the biblical matriarch holds value and importance for both Muslims and Jews. Many women from both religions visit this place for safe and smooth pregnancies.
Book of Genesis mentioned the Bethlehem first under the name of Ephrat. It is suggested that Rachel dies in Ephrat while giving birth to her son Benjamin. The northern edge of the city holds her tomb.
Unesco Heritage Sites
In June 2012, the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route along which the traditional Christmas procession heads were chosen as the World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, a UN cultural organization. Israel and the United Nations opposed, but they couldn’t do anything because of the value and importance of the places. This decision was applauded and hailed by Palestinians.
In October 2010, UNESCO’s executive council labeled the tomb of Rachel as Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque. Israel protested against this and reduced its cooperation with the organization as a result.
Christmas in Bethlehem
Franciscan church of Saint Catherine is adjoined with the Church of Nativity. This is the place where Christmas mass is held and celebrated every year at midnights. In manager square, a large tree is put up every year in early December. It is the signal of the start of the festivities, and the lighting from the tree spread the message of peace to the whole region troubled with conflict.
On Christmas day, every year, thousands of Muslims and Christians gathered at the pilgrimage route to witness procession organized by the Catholic patriarch, which begins in Jerusalem and passes through the wall which separates west bank form Israel.
Sound of drum and bagpipes accompanies the cleric and scouting marching bands—many multi-colored processions held in the square at this time. Orthodox and Armenian Church calendars celebrate Christmas in January. Their celebrations start in the city after the New Year and can be witnessed in various parts of the city.
The city of Bethlehem has a population of around 32,000. It is located in the Bethlehem district, which is home to about 210,000 Palestinians. The district consists of two other major towns Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, around 30 villages and three refugee camps.
The population used to be predominantly Christian around 50 years ago, but Muslims have taken over in numbers now, although Christians are still working in crucial economic sectors.
Church of Nativity attracts around 2 million tourists every year, making tourism the biggest economic activity in this district.
Regardless of religion, Bethlehem has something for everybody. The spiritual meaning of Bethlehem can only be understood by visiting this holy city.