Omicron for Christmas in Bethlehem
Bethlehem is one of the most important and sacred places to celebrate Christmas in the world. But will tourists be able to celebrate there this year?
Christmas in Bethlehem
Bethlehem – placed only a few minutes from Jerusalem – is one of the most important and sacred places in the world to celebrate Christmas. According to the Christian tradition, Bethlehem is the place where Jesus was born.  
Being so important in the Christian tradition, Bethlehem hosts a large number of Christian tourists every December. Christmas in Bethlehem is a beautiful experience for tourists. The city is covered with lights and decorations and the streets are filled with Christmas music. At Manger Square, a beautiful Christmas tree is erected every year. The highlight of the city is the Church of the Nativity which, according to the Christian tradition, is the place of the birth of Jesus. The exact place of birth of Jesus is in the basement of the church, at the Grotto of the Nativity.
In 2019, the year before the coronavirus pandemic began, Bethlehem hosted 1.5 million visitors. However, because of COVID-19, Bethlehem has seen almost no tourists recently. Because of the new omicron variant, the situation will not change this December.  
The financial implications of the restrictions
Since a very large part of the population of Bethlehem (20%) works in tourism, the unemployment rate rose from 23% to 35% throughout the pandemic. As Bethlehem will also be closed for Christmas this year, the unemployment rate might rise even more.
For instance, Bethlehem’s Ararat Hotel was very much expecting Christmas tourists. Yet, the hotel is now empty because of the new COVID-19 developments. Only 7 out of the 105 employees of the hotel were not fired. A manager of the hotel stated, “We were expecting 70 percent occupancy for Christmas but all overseas reservations have been cancelled.” The owner of a ceramic shop has also strongly resented the COVID-19 economic crisis. He stated that “there is no work … I open the shop, drink a cup of coffee, and go home.” He also added that since the first lockdown in March 2020, he had just one customer.
The Palestinian Authority – responsible for the city of Bethlehem – is in an economic crisis. Therefore, the only help it had given until now to workers in Bethlehem was a one-time stipend of 700 shekels ($224).
The pandemic is still with us
While the people of Bethlehem and the entire world had hoped the COVID-19 pandemic was behind us, the omicron variant has surprised all. Bethlehem will not be able to host its pilgrims and tourists for Christmas 2021. Let’s hope that next Christmas, people will be able to celebrate the festivities there again.
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