Pictures || Joy pervades the city of Bethlehem during the Christmas celebrations

An atmosphere of joy and happiness prevailed in Manger Square in the city of Bethlehem, where a decorated Christmas tree was erected, and visitors began to take pictures in front of it, wearing Santa's hats, while children roamed the square carrying colorful balloons and candy for girls' hair.

Platforms for Christmas celebrations were set up in the square, and the city began preparing to receive him five months ago, according to the mayor of Bethlehem.

"Christmas is the city's festival, and we devoted a lot of time and effort to preparing for it," Hanna Hanania told AFP.

The city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, according to Christian traditions, witnesses the influx of thousands of foreign tourists and pilgrims annually on the occasion of the feast. It is located in an area supervised by the Palestinian Authority, south of Jerusalem, in the occupied West Bank, and is inhabited by about 30 thousand people.

Hanania added, “We held the Christmas market twice, once in Manger Square at the end of November, and once in Al-Najma Street, which is an important street for Christians because they believe that the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph passed through it before placing it in the Nativity Point."

He added, "We were keen on international participation and provided singing and children's performances... Singers from France, South Africa and Malta participated."

On December 3, the 16-meter-high Christmas tree in the middle of Manger Square was lit up with a bright star, red balls and golden bells.

The Mayor of Bethlehem and other officials, city dignitaries and scouts received on Saturday the Latin Patriarch Pierre Battista Pizzaballa, who will preside over the Mela Mass in the presence of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The singers start singing religious hymns from 6:00 to 10:00 pm, before the midnight mass in St. Catherine's Church.

- A text from the Bible - By the way, this year the municipality hung a painting consisting of a page of the Holy Bible in the original Aramaic language on the wall of the Peace Center.

Seventy-year-old James Wittenberger, who came with his four children from Michigan, expressed his gratitude for the "kind and warm" treatment he received in Bethlehem.

As for his son Paul, 40, he said: "It is a wonderful place. We have been here for three days and the weather is beautiful. We are lucky here away from the storm" that hits North America.

"I'm walking around the wonderful city. It's a sacred place... an important, dear place, especially at Christmas," said John Haves, 22, from Vancouver, Canada.

In front of the al-Saha café, where Christmas carols are heard, Tania Kanawati, 26, the manager of the place, said, "We expect large numbers of people to arrive on Christmas Eve."

Wassim Abu Mokh, who studies at Tel Aviv University, said, "The feeling here is different... We feel psychological comfort here."

As for the university student Fatima Hijazi, who came from the city of Tamra to the Galilee with a group of her friends, she said, "We want to celebrate the holiday in his city. This fits with our identity as Palestinians."

Israel allowed 500 Palestinian Christians to leave the Gaza Strip to visit Bethlehem at Christmas, according to the non-governmental Gisha Association.

"The situation is now much better after Corona. The situation has improved over the past three months. Tourists are sleeping in the city. Before that, they visited and slept in Israel," said Michael Al-Sirani, owner of a pottery shop.

Mayor Hanna Hanania expressed his happiness that the number of tourists has increased to 123,000 since the beginning of the year, which he described as a "great development."

The city celebrated the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Bethlehem municipality on the fourth of this month.

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