Preparing for Christmas in Bethlehem
West Bank residents prepare for festivities in Bethlehem, while some Gazan Christian pilgrims make their way there without all of their family.PT0M0S 620 349
Thousands of Palestinians and tourists are flocking to the West Bank city of Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas at the site where many believe Jesus Christ was born.
This year's celebration carries special significance for many Palestinians, coming after 12 months in which their status on the world stage has been significantly upgraded.
Last month the United Nations granted Palestine status as a non-member observer state. Earlier this year Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity was recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Christmas in pictures
Pictures of Christmas celebrations from around the world Photo: Reuters
The designation also included part of a pilgrimage route in Bethlehem, along which the traditional Christmas procession headed by the Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal will march later on Monday.
Thousands of tourists are expected to join Palestinian residents of the city - Muslim and Christian alike - in lining the route to welcome the procession, which includes dozens of musicians and scout troupes from across the West Bank.
The parade will end in Manger Square, in front of the Church of the Nativity, which is built over the site where Christians believe Mary gave birth to Jesus in a cattle shed.
A Palestinian girl watches a Christmas parade outside the Church of Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Photo: Reuters
Several hours later, Twal, the most senior Roman Catholic bishop in the Middle East, will deliver the traditional midnight mass to the faithful.
Scout troupes were already marching in the square to the rhythm of drums and bagpipes mid-morning, while hundreds of tourists looked on.
The mass is traditionally attended by top officials from the Palestinian Authority including president Mahmud Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad.
Last week, in his pre-Christmas press conference, Twal praised the UN decision to upgrade Palestinian status, calling it a "step towards peace and stability in the region".