News / Middle East

Pilgrims Converge for Bethlehem Christmas

Visitors light candles in the Church of the Nativity ahead of Christmas in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Dec. 23, 2013.
Visitors light candles in the Church of the Nativity ahead of Christmas in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Dec. 23, 2013.
Robert Berger
Pilgrims from around the world have converged on the West Bank town of Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations hosted by the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian boy and girl scouts kicked off Christmas celebrations with a festive march through Manger Square in Bethlehem. The square is decked out for the holiday with a giant Christmas tree, bells, lights and Palestinian flags.

The mood was more solemn inside the ancient Church of the Nativity, as thousands of pilgrims lined up to visit the grotto where tradition says Jesus Christ was born.

Shmuel Oluwa of Lagos, Nigeria said the grotto on Christmas is an experience of faith. “It’s fantastic, it’s a wonderful feeling, it’s something that every Christian should aspire to achieve. If you try and absorb the meaning of what happened there, then it’s a miraculous feeling.”

It is a good turnout this year thanks to a lull in Israel-Palestinian violence.

“For this month we are expecting 300,000 tourists," said Bethlehem’s Palestinian Mayor Vera Baboun, who told VOA there is no room at the inn.

“We have almost 4,000 rooms in Bethlehem in 33 hotels, all of them are booked. This means the city is accommodating and having a full number of tourists,” said Baboun.

Still, the Palestinians complain about the big wall Israel erected around Bethlehem about 10 years ago, following a wave of deadly suicide bombings. Residents describe the city as a big prison, but Baboun said walls cannot quell Bethlehem’s message of hope, love and peace.

“It will ever be a Merry Christmas because Christmas is joy, despite all the hardships that we go through and the siege of the city, but still Christmas is joyful,” said Baboun.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority are working together to facilitate the entry of pilgrims from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, in the spirit of Christmas goodwill.

  • Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal arrives at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Dec. 24, 2013.
  • Girls wearing traditional Palestinian costumes take part in a Christmas procession at Manger Square in front of the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Dec. 24, 2013.
  • Christian pilgrim worshippers from Nigeria pray in the Grotto of the Church of Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2013.
  • Christian worshippers from Nigeria pray at the Church of Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2013.
  • Visitors light candles in the Church of the Nativity ahead of Christmas in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Dec. 23, 2013.
  • A nun walks inside the Church of the Nativity ahead of Christmas in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Dec. 23, 2013.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More