BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Armenian Christians in Palestine are celebrating Christmas on Saturday with a procession through the streets of Jesus Christ's birthplace.
The Armenian patriarch of Jerusalem Nourhan Manougian arrived before noon in Bethlehem and marched to the Church of the Nativity, the site in the city's historic center where Jesus is believed to have been born.
In anticipation of the event, streets were decorated and locals came out to watch. Bethlehem police director Luay Zreiqat told Ma'an that 150 police officers were deployed along the route of the march, and dozens of police officers were stationed in Manger Square as well.
Palestinian Armenian Christians who follow the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem mark Christmas nearly two weeks after the majority of Armenian and Eastern Orthodox denominations, who mark the holiday on Jan. 6 or 7, and more than three weeks after Western Christians mark Christmas, who celebrate on Dec. 25.
The differences in dates of celebration are due to the use of different calendars, as Western Christians mark the holiday using the Gregorian calendar, Orthodox Christians and most Armenian denominations mark the holiday using the Julian calendar, and the Armenian patriarch of Jerusalem marks Christmas using the Julian calendar but with a different date.
Groups of Armenians began moving to Palestine beginning in the fourth century and mainly settled in Jerusalem, where, in the seventh century, they established a Patriarchate Complex which has since attracted Armenian pilgrims.
Thousands of Armenians also arrived fleeing the massacres in the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, after which many settled in Palestine.
According to Armenian sources, some 7,500 Armenians today live across the Holy Land. About 300 live in Bethlehem, 2,100 in Jerusalem and the rest live in Acre, Ramle, Nazareth, and Beersheba. There are a small number of Armenians in the Gaza Strip as well.
There are around 200,000 Palestinian Christians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and inside Israel in total, while hundreds of thousands more live abroad.