Thousands of Christians converged on the West Bank town of Bethlehem today to celebrate Christmas. It was a merry and peaceful Christmas, as we hear in this VOA report from Robert Berger in Bethlehem.
Pilgrims from around the world crowded into the ancient grotto in the Church of the Nativity believed to be the birthplace of Jesus, while others sang carols outside in Manger Square.
"We're glad to be here, it's a joy to be here," said David Bogenreif who came from the U.S. state of Iowa. "There's no other Bethlehem in all the world, I mean there's other names, but Jesus was born here. It's exciting no matter what the politics, or the people, or the nationalities. We love the Lord Jesus and we're very happy to be here."
And since Bethlehem depends on tourism, Palestinian residents were happy too.
"I think this year, it is not better, the best, I think it is the best till now," said Nadia Hazboun, a shopkeeper in Manger Square. "There [are] tourists, a lot of tourists, a calm, everything I think it is OK."
Security was tight as Palestinian police with assault rifles patrolled the streets. But that was not a problem for Jennifer Goodman from the U.S. state of Illinois.
"It's a place of war so they have to be sort of ready for anything," said Goodman. "And I think today, they're just here for crowd control purposes."
Thanks to a lull in violence and the revival of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, it was the largest turnout of pilgrims for Christmas in years.