Tens of thousands of visitors descended upon the Palestinian town of Bethlehem for a Christmas procession, marking a return to the traditional pilgrims and holiday visitors from around the world.
The return comes after almost three years of pandemic which crippled tourism, the main motor of the local economy. Reports say that the town’s streets were bustling with visitors again as Palestinian Christians and pilgrims gathered for the Midnight Mass at the 4th-century Nativity Church.
Television reports showed scout bands playing bagpipes and drummers escorting church leaders entered Manger Square after making their way from Jerusalem, ahead of midnight Mass at the nearby Church of the Nativity – which is built on the site where Jesus Christ is believed to have been born.
The grotto inside the church is said to be the oldest site continuously used as a place of worship in Christianity. Accompanying Palestinian Christians from as far away as Galilee and the Gaza Strip, there are visitors from around the world. As a result, hotels are fully booked in the town for the first time since 2019.
Among the tourists visiting Bethlehem are devouts from India who say it was a “dream” to be in Bethlehem. “We as Christians are blessed to come here, I am happy to be here,” an Indian visitor was quoted by media as saying.
‘‘Bethlehem, where the economy is reliant on tourism, is seeing more and more tourists. Last year we celebrated Christmas during the pandemic and without any tourists. This year, we are celebrating Christmas with tourists that arrive to Palestine, to Bethlehem from all over the world,” Palestinian Tourism Minister Rola Maayah told media.