Pilgrims flock to Bethlehem at Christmas

by Ella FAIRCHILD on December 27, 2010

With its strong base in the Christian faith, pilgrimage to Bethlehem is up 60 per cent this year from last year.

Despite increased violence between Israel and Palestine in the area and the world economy still struggling, record numbers of pilgrims made their way to the small town where Jesus was born to celebrate Christmas. The West Bank town, just three miles from Jerusalem, has experienced reduced tourism in recent years as violence persists. However, this year over 100,000 pilgrims headed to the famous farming community.

In 2009, fewer than 50,000 people headed to Bethlehem for the spiritual holiday. Yet, early Christmas morning in 2010, 100,000 pilgrims had flocked to the Church of the Nativity for prayers and services, which were held all day long at the place of Jesus’ birth. The surge in numbers will bring a much-needed boost to the local economy.

Those that are visiting must wait up to two hours in an Israeli checkpoint to get into the small city, which is bordered by an eight-metre high wall. For those that had visited ten years ago or more, the increased security is a marked difference.

Despite these obstacles, Christians arrived in droves to see the place where Jesus was born and to celebrate the virgin birth. Hotel occupancy rates within Bethlehem were up 45 per cent from levels in 2009.

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