Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem have been brought to a close with the marking by the Armenian Orthodox Church of Jerusalem of Christmas Day on January 19th.
In the 18th century all Christian churches adopted the Gregorian calender for marking religious feasts with the exception of some eastern Orthodox churches. Among these churches was the Armenian Orthodox Church of Jerusalem which still follows the Julian calender as introduced by Julius Ceasar. Consequently, the church marks January 18th and 19th as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
The Armenian community in Palestine has a long history. The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem was founded in 638. The community reached its peak in Palestine as people fled the Armenian Genocide which began in 1915 under the Ottoman Empire.
According to the church around 15,000 Palestinian-Armenians lived in Palestine until 1948 when many fled during the Nakba and again in 1967 as Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Today, the largest group of Palestinian-Armenians remain in Jerusalem, numbering about 2,000, whilst others live in Bethlehem, Ramallah, Haifa, Jaffa and Ramla.
Christmas Eve was marked in Bethlehem by a parade through Manger Square in which various scout troupes and their marching bands led the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem to the Church of the Nativity. The parade was later followed with the holding of the traditional Midnight Mass inside the church.
Images by MEMO Photographer Rich Wiles.