December 11, 2010

Green light to Christmas Eve in Bethlehem

Janet Reed: "Outside the Church of the Nativity
with our backs to the wild party in Manger Square"

I first published this post December 12, 2008

We often experience sacred time by retelling sacred myths and stories. So when my friends the Reeds joined their friends (two families) on a ten-day trip from Atlanta to Israel last winter, Janet Reed's real-time diary of their interfaith journey brought me endless joy and fascination, which I chronicled in Bethlehem bound: Is it safe?

Their holy caravan of three families (six adults and seven children) traveled as one throughout Israel. In Jerusalem, the Reeds participated in their friends' children's Bar and Bat Mitzva ceremonies, and on Christmas Eve, the Reeds took a short security-conscious journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. So, when Dori called me from Illinois to find out how she and her fiance, Josh Gomes (a pro basketball player scoring points for Israel), might worship in Bethlehem this Christmas Eve, I knew which pro to ask.

Guest Blogger Janet Reed Writes

"Janet Reed is an FOT (friend of Tamar) whose family exploits are sometimes featured on this blog. Janet is a writer and the chief herder of two adorable girls and one fabulous husband who has introduced Janet to many of her best friends (such as Tamar!). Janet likes to read, cook, and travel, and especially enjoyed planning a trip to the Middle East last year, which included Christmas Eve in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity. The journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity service we attended, and related experiences in Manger Square were spectacular in every way. You will have so much fun. We loved every minute of our trip.

"Here is an excerpt from an email we sent Tamar and others:
Greetings from Jerusalem!! We are having a GREAT time and are loving our trip. We made it to Bethlehem last night — a total zoo. A massive (NYC Times Square-ish) crowd in Manger Square, which we had to navigate with the girlies. Then pushed through the barrier into the Church of the Nativity through the labyrinth of that amazing church to a tiny Greek Orthodox chapel where we had Lessons and Carols (a cappella) with Mahmoud Abbas (super security detail included) and about 90 other "pilgrims," mostly English-speaking but lots of Arabs and Arabic speakers as well. Made it into the Grotto (where Jesus was born) for a quick touch, then back through the throng. Exhilarating and scary, but glad we did it.

About the Church of the Nativity
Three Christian denominations “share” the Church, and they hold services independently. (There are no restrictions on photography inside churches — so odd to us! — we took pix everywhere!)

We wanted to get to Bethlehem and back in one evening, and to attend a service in the Church. As far as I could tell, the only group that could help us accomplish this easily was St. George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem.

About St. George's Cathedral
Nablus Road 20 Phone in Israel 02/627-2133; Fax 02/6276401. Outside Israel 972+2/627-2133. The Tickets are required, and only the Cathedral sells them.

From the Cathedral, we boarded buses that took us to and from Bethlehem — only seven miles away, twice crossing through a large Israel Defense Forces checkpoint.

2008 schedule

Key: (A) Arabic, (E) English

24 December
  • 4 pm Carol Service in Shepherds Field (YMCA) of Beit Sahour (E, A) 
  • 7 pm Buses depart St. George's Cathedral for Bethlehem 
  • 9 pm Service of Christmas Carols and Lessons in the Church of the Nativity (E, A) Buses return to Jerusalem after the service. 
  • 11:30 pm Eucharist of the Nativity in St. George's Cathedral (A, E) 
25 December
  • 10 am Christmas Day Eucharist (A, E) 
  • 6 pm Solemn Evensong (E)
26 December
7.30 am St. Stephen's Day Eucharist (A, E)

Other travel options
You can go to Bethlehem for a wild Christmas Eve party in Manger Square (no kidding — that’s what it’s called!) and you can Google “Christmas Eve in Bethlehem” for schedules of various services and activities. If you want to visit Bethlehem any other time, that’s pretty easy. If you’re feeling highly adventurous, you can drive or go by taxi — not ways I’d go, but maybe you know your way around and will feel comfortable with this.

Questions for Janet?
I’ll be happy to answer any questions on our journey. Just ask in a comment at the end of the post. 

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Rurality said...

It looks pretty there. I think I'd be nervous of such a big crowd, though!

Lonny Gomes said...

Hello! Seeing all of these pictures makes me want to plan a trip to Israel soon! This is Josh Gomes' brother. I added your blog to my RSS feed. I'm just starting to get into the world of blogging, I may ask you for some tips on getting started ;)

Tamar Orvell said...

Rurality — Your comment cracked me up on the idiosyncrasy of nervousness. Your magic garden is exquisite... to view... on my screen... yet many of the creeping, hopping, flying, slinking visitors to and denizens of this eden creep me out;-)

Lonny — Please plan to visit Israel soon, preferably when I'm "in town" starting February! I love to mentor new bloggers and you have much to teach me, too! Wishing you a wonderful reunion starting this week with OUR family, and a Merry Christmas and happy 2009!

Sharolyn said...

Hello...we are planning on a trip to Israel next week...we leave on the 22nd...arriving into Tel Aviv on the 23rd. We were planning on doing a tour of Bethlehem for Christmas Eve...but after reading your post, I am hoping somehow to get tickets to go with the church. Do you have to buy the tickets in person, do you know? I know it is a day late..but maybe worth a try if i just have to call or something. You do not mention where you found this info and after reading your post, I googled like crazy hoping to find something about how to get in touch with someone there...really hoping for an email. Anyway...the tour guide would take us from Tel Aviv to Bethlehem for the screening of the service...not sure what that is about. Do you know? If we can not go with the church, do you have any suggestions? Thanks!!!

Janet... to Sharolyn said...

Hi, Sharolyn — I believe the tix must be purchased in person. Last year, I called the Cathedral of St. George (see the number in my post) and reserved tix, then had someone pick them up for me in J'lem. (I don't think there was an email address available, but they all speak English, so no worries about communication.) I would guess that, for a fee, your guide would have a way to do that for you. Or perhaps the church will just reserve them for you, and you can pick them up that evening — I'd certainly give that a try. Don't worry about being a day late — just go for it. I don't know what the "screening of the service" would be. If you can't get into the church (which I would definitely try to do), you can still enjoy seeing Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. There's a huge "block party” in Manger Square, with a stage, bands, singers — a giant party. There will be lots of people in Santa hats singing Christmas carols. It would be fun and interesting just to be there. Also, I think the Catholic mass is broadcast into the square, so you can be there for that. You may also want to ask your guide about the YMCA trip to Shepherd’s Fields. If you have any questions, let me know. It's a tremendous experience.

Sharolyn said...

Thanks for all the info. My husband called the church today and they reserved spots for our family!! I am so excited. I much preferred going into the church than watching the service on a screen with thousands of crazy people. You kind of freaked me out there..not really. I was wanting to go into the church and what we had found was just what you said, enjoying the block party and watching the mass on a screen in manger square. This sounds more like what we wanted to just took me a while to figure out who offered it and how to get it!! So again, thank you for your post. Is Dori and Josh going this Christmas and did they get tickets??? If so, I guess we shall be on the bus with them?? Anyway, it is me, Sharolyn my husband David and our 3 kids, Trey, Tara and William. My son is actually going to college in Tel Aviv, and since this is his first Christmas away, we decided to go visit him to celebrate!! And WOW...what a way to celebrate Christmas!! I can not wait!!!

Dori said...

Yes, JG and I will be in Bethlehem on the 24th, but not the way your friend Janet went. We will visit the church she suggested. We received our tickets from Josh's hotel. it should be great! YES WE ARE GOING ON CHRISTMAS EVE!!!! which really excites me! Anyway, we will be talking to you soon!

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