Feast of Saint George (al-Khader) in Palestine Date in the current year: May 6, 2024

Feast of Saint George (al-Khader) in Palestine Saint George is one of the most venerated saints in Christianity. His feast day is celebrated on April 23 by Western churches and on May 6 by Eastern Orthodox Churches which use the Julian calendar. Interestingly, the feast of Saint George is also observed by Palestinians, both Christian and Muslims.

In Palestinian Arabic, Saint George’s Day is known as al-Khader. It was named so after Khidr, also referred to as al-Khidr, al-Khadir, al-Khader, or al-Khadr. Al-Khidr is a figure in the Quran described as a righteous servant of God possessing mystic knowledge and great wisdom.

Since very little is known about him, his figure has been syncretized over time with other religious figures from various religions, including Saint George in the Middle East, Saint Sarkis the Warrior and Saint John the Baptist in Armenia, and Sraosha in Zoroastrian tradition. Palestinians identify al-Khidr with Saint George.

Veneration of Saint George originates in the historical region of Levant, where the saint was martyred for this faith, and Christians in the Middle East still celebrate it. Since most Christian churches in the Middle East use the Julian calendar, they observe the feast of Saint George on May 6. Palestinian Muslims have also adopted the custom via the identification of the saint with al-Khidr.

In Palestinian tradition, the celebration of Saint George’s Day begins on the eve of the holiday (May 5). The mail celebration is held in the town of al-Khader, located about 3 miles from Bethlehem. The town was named after al-Khidr and is famous for the Eastern Orthodox Christian Monastery of Saint George. According to legend, the saint was imprisoned where the current monastery is located.

On the morning of Saint George’s Day, Christian pilgrims from throughout Palestine march in a procession to the Saint George’s Monastery. Muslims from al-Khader guard the entrance and welcome the pilgrims. Once in the monastery, the pilgrims would make promises they vow to fulfill, trade loaves of bread, and have picnics in the olive grove surrounding the church. Some pilgrims come to the monastery to baptize their children, believing that they would grow strong and healthy.

One of the customs associated with the Palestinian feast of Saint George is animal sacrifice, probably stemming from the legend that tells of the saint slaying a dragon and rescuing a princess. Although the priests of the monastery itself don’t sacrifice animals, they accept meat as a gift from pilgrims.

Muslims also sacrifice sheep during the feast. According to Islamic tradition, they offer two sacrifices. The first, named the dhabihah, requires to set aside one-third of the immolated lamb to be consumed by its owner, while the remaining meat is dedicated to Allah and given as charity. The second offering is a live animal, bequeathed as a gift to Saint George.

In addition to Palestine, the feast of Saint George is celebrated by many Christian denominations in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. There used to be Saint George’s Monastery in Iraq, Mosul, but it was destroyed by ISIS militants.

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