BETHLEHEM, West Bank – Christian pilgrims from around the world have begun to gather in the biblical town of Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations at the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
On a crisp, sunny day, thousands of people crowded into Manger Square, stopping in restaurants and admiring the town's Christmas tree. Marching bands and scout troops are entertaining the visitors.
The celebrations are bringing a lift to an area after a difficult year. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed last spring, and Israel battled Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip during a 50-day war over the summer.
Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal led a procession from his Jerusalem headquarters into Bethlehem, passing through the Israeli separation barrier that surrounds much of the town. He said he hopes 2015 will be better than "this difficult year."