CHRISTMAS is the Christian holiday marking the birth of Jesus Christ, and among the Christian faiths, there is no tradition more beloved than the story of the birth of the infant Savior in the city of Bethlehem.
As the story goes: King Herod ordered his subjects to report to the city of Bethlehem to be counted for a census. Jesus parents, Mary and Joseph, set off on this arduous journey from their home in Nazareth, in present-day Israel. They arrived in Bethlehem tired and hungry to find that there was no place for them to stay in the city. Despite Marys advanced pregnancy, the young, poor couple was forced to settle for the night in a roadside cave. Mary gave birth to the baby Jesus that night. Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of God, born to Earth as an innocent child to save mankind from his sins.
For Christians, there is no place on Earth endowed with more magic and meaning than Bethlehem. The ancient city also holds deep religious significance for people of the Jewish and Muslim faiths.
Bethlehem is located in the heart of the Holy Lands, a region in the Middle East where the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths originated and where the sacred texts of these religions take place. This region encompasses the nations of Israel and Jordan, and the territory bordering Israel controlled by the Palestinian authority. Bethlehem is located five miles south of Jerusalem, 45 miles north east of Gaza and the Mediterranean Sea, 47 miles west of Amman, Jordan, and 37 miles southeast of Tel Aviv, Israel.
Bethlehem has been conquered and controlled by every group that ever rose to dominance in the region. It has been destroyed, nearly destroyed, and rebuilt several times. In modern times, Bethlehem has passed between Israeli and Palestinian, and briefly Jordanian, control.
Since 1995, Bethlehem has been part of the Palestinian territory. Despite the fact that Bethlehem is located in a Muslim territory, and was formerly part of a Jewish state, Bethlehem, in the past, has retained a large population of Christians throughout the centuries. In fact, Bethlehems Palestinian Christians make up the oldest Christian community on Earth.
The Church of the Nativity, presumably built on the site of Jesus birth nearly 700 years after his birth, is one of Christianitys holiest sites, and one of Bethlehems top tourist attractions. For Jews, Bethlehem is the place where David was crowned the second King of Israel. The home of the Tomb of Rachel, which stands at the entrance to the city, is the third holiest site in Judaism. The city is filled with sacred holy sites.
Each year at Christmas, people from all over the world make the pilgrimage to Bethlehem to visit this holiest of places. Millions more visit Bethlehem in their hearts, following the story of a young, poor couple, and their baby born at the side of the road.