BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Armenian Christians in Palestine celebrated Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany on Sunday with parades in the streets of Bethlehem.
The Armenian patriarch of Jerusalem, Mourhan Manouagian, arrived in Bethlehem around noon.
Manouagian was welcomed by Palestinian Authority Minister of Tourism Rula Maaya, Bethlehem governor Jibrin al-Bakri, Bethlehem mayor Vera Baboun, director of Bethlehem police Alaa Shalabi, and President Mahmoud Abbas' advisor for Christian affairs Ziad al-Bandak.
Bethlehem police said in a statement earlier Sunday that it planned to "secure the appropriate atmosphere ... for this national holiday which is highly appreciated by both Muslims and Christians."
Later, President Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Bethlehem for the Christmas celebrations.
Abbas was welcomed by al-Bakri, a number of ministers and Palestinian Legislative Council members, security officials, religious figures, and the mayors of Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala, and al-Doha.
Armenian Christians in Palestine 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.