From the beginning of the Advent to the week right before Christmas, parishes have been lighting their Christmas trees one after the other. And this is also true for the parishes of he Custody.
On Thursday, December 3, the first tree lighting in the series of lighting ceremonies took place at the parish church in Saint Savior’s Monastery. After Br. Firas Hijazin, the pastor, prayed with the congregation at the church and after he spoken about the traditions associated with St. Barbara, whose feast is celebrated on the same day, everybody went outside. They gathered on the church’s steps, while the Custos awaited them underneath the monastery’s arched entranceway.
Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa lit the tree himself, accompanied by the pastor and the director of the Terra Sancta Jerusalem School, Br. Ramzi Sidawi. Young children were present and they were so numerous that they blocked the small entrance. But they listened attentively to Br. Firas’ words: “We must light hearts before lighting the tree and putting up a manger scene in front of the tree.” Then, in an instant, the tree was lit by the Custos, who also gave out and even tossed chocolate to the large, happy crowd. The arrival of the boy scouts, added an extra touch of liveliness to the feast, which continued at the premises of the parish where the congregation was invited to taste the “bourbara” and experience the Christmas bazaar.
Saturday, December 5, in Bethlehem. Although there was a crowd in Bethlehem, the tree lighting ceremony was carried out discreetly. Manger Square was overflowing with people despite the cold winter air, but people were not such in high spirits. Speeches and video testimonials followed. The countdown, which appeared on the giant screens, livened up the crowd and photographers. At 7:30 p.m., the tree was lit, and the bells of the Church of the Nativity rang.
Thursday, December 10, in Beit Hanina. Now, it was the turn of Saint James’ parish in Beit Hanina, located north of Jerusalem, to host its tree lighting ceremony.
The ceremony was preceded by a mass that was presided over by the Custos of the Holy Land, in the presence of Arabic-speaking priests and Br. Ramzi, as well as Br. Firas, the pastor of the parish, of which Beit Hanina is its daughter church. It was also an opportunity to bless the new wooden crucifix and stained glass. On that occasion, Br. Brother Haitham Yalda, vicar at Saint James’ church, gave a gift to the Custos from the parish.
Then, the whole congregation went outside, where many parishioners were waiting. The tree was ready, and a technician made some final touches. To add to the suspense, the tree lighting was preceded by speeches and carols. Many young people were speaking in small groups, in addition to taking “selfies.” “Every year, people come from Jerusalem and its suburbs to see the tree lighting ceremonies; it is also an opportunity to come together,” explained Tayma, a young girl with long curly hair. “I, for instance, come from Jerusalem. And I come here because there is a great atmosphere!” said Majd.
After the tree lighting ceremony, all were invited to a big, very orderly bazaar in the large hall located in the church’s basement.
Now, it was finally the turn of the tree belonging to the middle school run by the friars. Located at the New Gate, with its door wide open, it welcomed the crowd with open arms. Projectors of all colors beamed light on the bubbles being blown from the foot of the tree and the giant nativity scene (new this year). Between Scouts, Santa, bells, caroles and bubbles, the children and the children of the choir, were mesmerized. Garlands that were hung in the streets lit up the neighborhood. The lighting of this tree is a kind of like a feast for the entire Christian neighborhood of Jerusalem’s Old City. Christians of every denomination were present, as well as the heads of their respective churches, who came all the way here to impart their common blessing on this event.
After the fireworks, all of the religious headed toward the Notre Dame Center, which is located across the street. In the conference hall, they attended a show that was put on for the children.
On Sunday, December 20, a Christmas tree will be lit in an oasis where a small Franciscan parish is located. Guess where… Jericho!
It will appropriate to more intensely await Him, who gives meaning to all of these celebrations: the coming Messiah.» custodia.org