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Today is Christmas Eve for the Orthodox Christians. And we got to see the day-long celebration at Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Our hotel is nearby and before breakfast, we heard the sounds of drums and bagpipes. Yes, bagpipes. Scouting  is popular here and the scout troops parade in tartans, playing bagpipes and drums. All day long, they paraded in the streets to Manger Square in preparation for the arrrival of the church patriarchs.

We went through the checkpoint and into Jerusalem to attend services at the Church of Scotland Afterward, as  we were approaching the checkpoint to re-enter Bethlehem, we saw many police cars and realized it was the patriarchs queing up for the procession. West Bank cars (you can tell a West Bank car because it has a green and white tag; West Bank taxis, yellow and green tags) are only permitted to leave the West Bank three times a year – at the western celebration of Christmas, the Orthodox celebration and the Armenian celebration of Christmas (mid-January) (by permission only.) It is a rare sight: Palestinian cars outside of the checkpoints.  By the way, it is illegal for Israelis to enter the West Bank. Giant red Israeli signs announce that it is illegal  for Israelis to enter because, the signs say, It is dangerous. Our experience in Palestine has been one of welcome and hospitality. More than once, we have been invited into the homes of Palestinians we have happened to meet.

Traffic was jammed throughout Bethlehem all day and even more so towards evening because the president of Palestine would be coming to Manger Square. On the streets people celebrated, Santas delivered gifts. In our hotel lobby, the manager’s family held their celebration, complete with Santa.

We visited Manger Square in the afternoon. It was packed with people as the patriarchs’ procession and introductions were made, bagpipes played, scouts crowded around. The call to prayer continued from the minaret at the corner of the square. As we shared Merry Christmas greetings with all we met today, we realized that many Muslims were returning or initiating the greeting. Here at ground zero, we are realizing, the people live together.