Palestine's Beit Lahm, birthplace of Christ, celebrates Christmas
Christmas celebrations kick off in Beit Lahm where hundreds of Palestinians gathered near the Church of the Nativity to celebrate the holiday.
With a giant evergreen tree, colorful balloons in the streets, and selfies in the Church of the Nativity, Christmas tourism has returned to the occupied Palestinian city of Beit Lahm after two years of Covid-related restrictions.
Children were seen running around in the streets wearing Santa hats, carrying colorful balloons, and eating candy as the occupation's shadow loomed over the city.
Scouts marched with bagpipes as thousands of onlookers lining the streets held balloons and cotton candy.
Beit Lahm is a sacred city in Christianity, as it is the birthplace of Jesus Christ, welcoming thousands of pilgrims and tourists annually during the holiday season.
The Latin Patriarch of Al-Quds, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, greeted worshippers upon his arrival to the town, ahead of leading the annual Christmas eve procession at the Church of the Nativity.
Beit Lahm mayor Hanna Hanania told AFP that after two years without Christmas being celebrated as it usually was due to the pandemic, the city's officials spent more than five months preparing for the expected influx of people.
"Christmas is the town's celebration, and we put in a lot of time and effort to prepare for it," he said.
"We wanted to have international participation, and organized children's songs and shows with singers from France, South Africa, and Malta," he added.
"Since the beginning of this year, but more specifically since March, we have begun receiving pilgrims and tourists from all over the world," Palestinian tourism minister Rola Maayah said.
"Until now, we have received about 700,000 tourists from around the world," she said.
Meanwhile, a Palestinian owner of a pottery and ceramics workshop in the city said he was delighted to see tourists flocking back to the town after two difficult years, which had seen local hotels standing empty.
"Things are much better now after the coronavirus pandemic," he said. "Besides, tourists have started to sleep in the city again."
The city celebrated the 150th anniversary of the foundation of its municipality on December 4, solidifying its standing as one of Palestine's oldest cities.