Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's Christmas time in the city

Yesterday I went to Bethlehem with Claire and two other friends from school. It was a wonderful trip to get into the Christmas spirit. Because there is Christmas in Bethlehem because of the Arab Christians and the tourist industry.

Claire made small talk with our cab driver that was taking us to the center of the city. She asked him if he knew a good place to buy olive wood souvenirs that were of a reasonable price. Of course he said yes he had some friends with a shop. So instead he drove us to his friends shop.

He took us to see the factory where the olive wood pieces are carved. The man was only actually carving one piece and the machine mimicked his movements on the other pieces. Our taxi driver is the man in the orangish red shirt. After seeing the factory he took us to the shop up above. The hospitality of the shop was wonderful we were each given Turkish coffee to drink while we shopped. We also got a discount since their friend brought us to the shop.

One of the things I knew I wanted was an olive wood nativity scene. The more detailed the piece the more expensive it was. I managed to find a small one that was in my price range.

I also found a nice angel as well as a small cross.

Next we visited the square where it really felt like Christmas. Well sort of...note the mosque in the background with the picture of Yasser Arafat.

They were setting up a stage for live performances that will take place today. Notice how December is spelled on the banner. :)

On the other side of the square from the mosque is the Basilica of the Nativity. This is the oldest continuously used church in the world. It was originally built by Queen Helena, Emperor Constantine's mother in the 300's. It's been destroyed and rebuilt many times since then.

This is the Door of Humility you have to duck down in order to get through the door.

It opens up into a large area with vaulted ceilings.

Notice the open spot in the floor in the picture above. This is left open to show you pieces of the original floor from the church Saint Helena built.

This is the Orthodox part of the church. Like the Holy Sepulchre the Basilica of the Nativity is divided up between several denominations.

Wall decorations that are from an earlier version of the church. 

This is standing in line to visit the Grotto of the Nativity. It was rather claustrophobic standing in the line. There were several tour groups in line and their guides were explaining the history of the church. The group behind us was an English group so I listened in for free. There was also a Russian tour group in line.

A rare picture of Mary smiling. 

The narrow opening down into the Grotto.

The priests were hurrying people through since the line was so long. This is the best picture I could get of the place where Jesus was born.

This is a Nativity scene in a courtyard area. Those are stuffed sheep.

We then walked about two hundred meters to another church that I had never heard of before. The Milk Grotto church. The legend has it that this church is built over a cave that the Holy family hid while fleeing from Herod into Egypt. While Mary was breast feeding Jesus Mary's milk fell and whitewashed the rocks which is why the rocks inside the church are white.

It was lunch time so we went to get coffee. It looks vaguely familiar. ;) We then went back to the square and had falafel at Afteem a famous falafel place in Bethlehem.

After lunch we went shopping again. I bought myself a scarf.