Boy Scout marching bands played in Manger Square, just outside the Church of the Nativity, which Christian tradition identifies as the site of Jesus’ birth in a stable two millennia ago. Pilgrims lit candles inside, and Palestinian policemen deployed around the town to keep the peace.
The Catholic Church’s top clergyman in the Holy Land arrived in Bethlehem in a traditional procession from Jerusalem just past midday Friday. Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal will later attend midnight mass at the church, the peak of the holiday’s events in the town.
The number of tourists visiting Bethlehem has been steadily rising in recent years, and the town’s 2,750 hotel rooms are booked solid for Christmas week. More hotels are under construction.