During the seasons of Advent and Christmas, Maysoon Khair, who came to the United States in 2006, frequently finds herself crying. It's the time of the year when it's especially difficult for her to be away from her large, close-knit Palestinian family. It's also the time of the year when she misses her hometown the most.
"There is more value to family than here; it's just unbelievable -- beautiful," Ms. Khair said. "Everybody knows each other. It is a small town."
Ironically, that small town is a big part of why she felt compelled to come to this country. She was born and raised in a home next to the Shepherds' Fields in Bethlehem. Ms. Khair beamed, "Where the star appeared to the shepherds, that's my neighborhood!"
As part of a Christian mission group in Bethlehem, Ms. Khair came to the United States to share her faith and to support her fellow Christians who are still living in Bethlehem. She does so by selling hand-crafted Christian items that are made from olive trees, grown and cultivated in Bethlehem and other parts of the Holy Land. The items are crafted by Christians in homes and workshops throughout the region.
According to the Star of Bethlehem Handicrafts website, www.StarofBethlehemHandicrafts.com, around 400 years ago, "Franciscan monks began teaching residents of Bethlehem the art of carving Holy Land olive wood." That art has evolved as it has been passed down from generation to generation. And the olive trees, which are associated with peace, prosperity and fertility and are mentioned throughout The Bible, are treated with respect by the artisans. The olive wood that's used to make the crafts is derived from branches that need to be pruned from the trees every two years to help the trees to bear fruit.
While the beautiful array of crafts generally include many Christmas items, such as ornaments and Nativity scenes, there are other items as well. The artisans make a variety of crosses, Christian statues, Rosary beads and keychains. Some of the items even include soil from the Holy Land.
Unfortunately, Khair said that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a nearly 75 percent decrease in business. She said that one of the most disappointing effects of the pandemic on Star of Bethlehem Handicrafts is that she is no longer allowed to visit area churches. Over the years, she's become friends with parishioners. The economic situation has also dealt a blow to business. "People are really struggling; they don't have the money to spend," she said. She added, "It was a tough year for everyone."
But despite the difficult year, Ms. Khair is thankful to God for watching over her and bringing good people into her life. She's also thankful to be doing the work she's been doing. "I love doing it," she said. "It just gives me that thing that I want to do. I want to spread the Word. I want everyone to know God."
Although Ms. Khair gets emotional when she thinks about how she misses her beloved family and her beautiful little hometown of Bethlehem, she's thankful that her work has brought tears of joy to some of her customers. And she hopes that God will continue to give her the strength to persevere in her work. "Believe me, it's not easy; the wood is heavy," she noted about the wooden crafts that she carted to a couple of malls this past Advent. But, she added, "I just love it -- love it!"