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My Christmas in Bethlehem

My Christmas in Bethlehem

December 23, 2014

I’ve always called Idaho home. When I was young, I spent time away, mostly for school, but I always came back, especially for the holidays. In my sixty-plus years, I’ve spent just one Christmas away from home.

I was a junior in college, abroad for the year, studying at an American university in Florence, Italy. For our Christmas break, the school sponsored a tour of the Holy Land.

Just before Christmas we arrived at the Palace Hotel in Jerusalem where most of the ninety-plus students would stay for the next several days.  A small group of us were bussed over to Bethlehem. We were disappointed that we would be separated from the group, but found humor in the fact that we had been turned away because there was no room at the inn. And then, because we were young and irreverent, when we arrived and discovered our hotel was a dump, we continued . . . would we share a room with a goat, or sheep, or Biblical ass?  Would the mattresses be stuffed with straw? Would a camel parade through the lobby?

Over the next few days, we spent little time at our hotel, joining the larger group to visit Mount Zion, Bethany, Jericho, Dome of the Rock, Mount Calvary.  On Christmas Eve, everyone was bussed back to Bethlehem for a private Midnight Mass.  It was 1968, just a year and a half after the Six-Day War in which the borders of Israel had once more been redrawn.  Unrest was evident.  Permits were required to enter the city and soldiers with machine guns moved across the rooftops.  We sang Christmas songs of peace and joy as we celebrated Midnight Mass, aware of how special this place and time was, the spiritual, Biblical and present historical significance.  We knew how fortunate we were to be in the city of Christ’s birth, and we also knew that this opportunity might not be possible for future students.  Yet, there was an undercurrent of something unspoken.  For most of us it was the first time we’d been away from home for Christmas.

The following day there was surprisingly little activity in Bethlehem. The big celebration had taken place at midnight the night before, and since we had gone back to Jerusalem after Mass for a group breakfast, it had been past 3:00 a.m. when our little group found our way back to the hotel in Bethlehem.  Christmas was half gone by the time we woke.  I remember walking around the oddly deserted city, visiting the Church of the Nativity.  But mostly I remember missing my family, wishing I could be home.

Recently, while out with two of my grandkids, I told them I had once spent Christmas in Bethlehem. 

“Really, Grandma?” my fifteen-year-old granddaughter asked with surprise. I don’t think she’s ever considered I might have had some youthful adventures.  I told them about being a student in Italy, having the opportunity to travel that year.  I asked if they’d like to do something like that when they go to college, and they both said yes.

I wish that for my grandchildren—the opportunity to see the world.  I hope some day they will.  But, I also hope that they will always want to return home.  Especially for Christmas. 

Reader Comments:

Merry "Christmas Eve," Kelly.
I discovered this on Lane's facebook page, and I'm so glad I clicked on your website. Yes, that Christmas in Jerusalem and Bethlehem left a lasting impression on many of us. Thanks for helping me re-live this memory.
Also, while in Seattle for our reunion, I picked up your book and then passed it on to my sister-in law, who then had her book club read your novel, (The novel w/ "colors" in the title). They thoroughly enjoyed the book, and knowing my sister-in-law, she relished the explanation of how I knew you.
I know you will enjoy your Christmas w/ your family. Certainly, I will.
Pat Price Schmidt
-Pat , December 24, 2014

Pat, I'm so glad you found this link on Lane's Facebook page, and thank you for taking the time to comment. We all have wonderful memories of that year and especially our Christmas in the Holy Land. Thank you, also, for passing WWHC on to your sister-in-law. Wishing you many blessing this Christmas.

-Kelly Jones, December 24, 2014

Thank you for sharing those reflections of Christmas 1968. What memories! This past Christmas (2014) was a reminder of 1968 as we spent the holiday camping on a beach in Mexico with my daughter's in-laws. We did a Posada and set up a small creche under some low hanging trees and sang Christmas carols outside with a chilly wind blowing. Different indeed but maybe similar to the first Christmas. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!
-Liz Feuersinger Templeton, January 1, 2015

Liz, It sounds like you are creating new Christmas memories and that you still have a great sense of adventure! Wishing you a wonderful new year filled with many more. Kelly
-Kelly Jones, January 2, 2015

I was born on Christmas and loved your Christmas in Bethlehem write up. I also visited Israel and ,of course, Bethlehem. I am now reading The Lost Madonna. I read Prague first and now this is your last book for me to read. I enjoyed each and every one and would love to read more.
-Mary Brown Carlson, July 15, 2015

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