Last week, my friend sent me a link to participate in our annual ‘secret santa’ gift exchange, and told me to put in a wish list so that the person gifting me wouldn’t go through a hassle.
I pondered for a long time what I could put in because I already have everything I want — except for one thing: I want a ceasefire in Gaza.
For the past 11 weeks, this has been my one true wish and prayer, for Gaza to see a permanent ceasefire. Not a ‘humanitarian pause’ or a ‘temporary ceasefire’ but for the ongoing genocide in Gaza to finally see an end.
Exacerbated by the month of Christmas, this wish has been heavy on my heart, especially as a Christian struggling with the guilt of celebrating while the Christians in Palestine will see no Christmas.
In Palestine — the place synonymous with the birth of Jesus Christ — Christmas is canceled.
“If Christ were to be born today, he would be born under the rubble and Israeli shelling,” Reverend Munther Isaac told Al Jazeera.
Palestinian Christian leaders from across different denominations collectively decided to abstain from all festivities this year in solidarity with the people in Gaza and the ongoing war on the Strip. There will be no public celebrations, no twinkling Christmas lights, and no adorned Christmas tree towering over Manger Square.
As a Christian, Christmas is my favorite holiday. Beyond the festivities, the enchanting carols, and the family gatherings, it is a time to practice gratitude and joy as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Yet, the joyous celebrations are overshadowed by the weight of sorrow and grief over the ongoing tragedies in Gaza. As the world gears up to celebrate, Christians in Gaza are unable to do the same.
For the past seventy-five days, there has been an overwhelming outpouring of guilt that we get to live our lives and go on with our days while Gaza is burning. Especially as a Christian, it feels particularly heavy to know that in Palestine — out of all places in the world — there is no Christmas.
“This is the worst Christmas. Even during the first intifada, the second intifada, it was not like this,” Jack Giacaman, an owner of a Bethlehem-based shop, tells NPR. “We don’t have the feeling to put up the Christmas tree,” Giacaman says, “I was a little bit sad. So I just put the Nativity set on the table.”
Like many people who lived their entire lives in Palestine, the Christmas spirit is nowhere to be found.
“In most years, there would be many people coming from all over the world,” Osama Al-Alli, a Palestinian taxi driver, told NPR. In a place that was once dotted with Christmas lights, “now, it’s dark at night,” Al-Alli said.
Palestinian Christians — descendants of the oldest Christian communities in the world — are at risk of extinction. Since the Israeli war on Gaza started nearly 80 days ago, over 20,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip — including at least 8,000 children — and over 52,500 others injured. Meanwhile, at least 259 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and at least 3,365 have been injured.
Dwindling at an alarming rate, Palestinian Christians are leaving in droves. In Gaza, Christians comprise less than one percent of the population — numbering only 800 to 1,000. As the Israeli bombardment continues to ravage the Strip, Christians in Gaza fear the possibility of extinction and the ongoing Israeli war on Gaza may jeopardize the longstanding presence of the Christian community in the region.
In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians comprise nearly two percent of the overall population, concentrated mainly in Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem.
“There are roughly fewer than 1,000 Christians in Gaza, who have lived there without much problem despite the de facto takeover of the territory in 2007 by Hamas. But Israeli airstrikes destroyed or damaged almost all the community’s homes in Gaza City while also hitting Gaza’s oldest active church, where some were sheltering,” Munther Isaac, pastor of Bethlehem’s Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church, told the Washington Post.
“The vast majority of the Christian community in Gaza are now homeless,” Isaac said.
CHRISTMAS LIES IN THE HEART
Although there are no grand festivities, parades, or celebrations — we can learn that the joy of the holidays lies in the heart. At its essence, the true Christmas is found in the absence of grandeur, in the quiet moments, and in the hope that it brings to the hearts of many.
It is truly humbling — and profoundly convincing — witnessing the unshakable faith of many who sleep under the sound of Israel’s bombs. How in the midst of war, they are still holding on to their faith. Perhaps this is what Christmas is all about — knowing that beyond the celebrations, it carries a broader cultural significance, embodying the spirit of giving, kindness, and joy that transcends religious boundaries and resonates with people of various backgrounds.
Truly, beyond the Secret Santa gifts and wishful thinking during the holidays, all I want for Christmas is a ceasefire in Gaza.
There is great hope in the help God supplies in the midst of our troubles. Be patient and wait on the Lord, those who hope in Him will not be put to shame.