Tens of Thousands Flock to Bethlehem For Christmas

The head of the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Land, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fuad Twal (centre), makes his way to the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Tens of thousands of Christians flocked there to celebrate Christmas following a year of political upheaval and change across the Arab world. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims flocked to Bethlehem today to celebrate the birth of Christ.

The UPI reported:

Tens of thousands of visitors were expected in the West Bank town of Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas in Jesus’ birthplace, officials said. Tourists and pilgrims gathered around a 50-foot Christmas tree in Manger Square and sang carols, and Boy Scouts with drums and bagpipes were to participate in the traditional afternoon procession through the West Bank town, the BBC reported.

Visitors kept the cash registers ringing at restaurants and shops selling carved olive-wood religious statues. Midnight Mass will be celebrated by the Holy Land’s top Roman Catholic cleric, Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal, in the 1,700-year-old Church of the Nativity, built on the spot where the faithful believe Mary gave birth to Jesus.

A German tourist told Voice of America what it meant to see Jesus’ birthplace with her family. “It’s really special, I mean, it’s where the story began,” she said. “And for me it’s also kind of special for my family because my parents were here and my grandmother was here so it’s special to be here.”

Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh noted during this Christmas season Palestinians are moving forward with their bid for statehood. “We are celebrating this Christmas hoping that in the near future we’ll get our right to self-determination, our right to establish our own democratic, secular, Palestinian state on the Palestinian land. That is why this Christmas is unique,” he said.

Two-thirds of the 50,000 residents of the once predominantly Christian Bethlehem are now Muslim.