A festive mood gripped a sunny Bethlehem on Friday as tourists flocked in record numbers to celebrate Christmas in the town where Christians believe Jesus Christ was born.
“It's amazing. To be in the birthplace of Christ on Christmas, you can't get better than that,” said a pilgrim .
He was among thousands of people packed into Manger Square, awaiting the arrival of Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal, in unseasonably warm weather under clear blue skies.
At least 90,000 people were expected to flood the town over the Christmas period, according to Palestinian Authority figures, though the crowds were made up largely of Palestinians with a few tourists mixed in between.
Charlene, an American from California who declined to give her last name, said it was a religious experience for her to be in Bethlehem on the day Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus.
“It's a crazy experience and it's probably one that will only happen once in our lives,” she told AFP.
Crowds lined the square, most of them Palestinian Christians, but Muslim women sporting headscarves were also visible.
Children, many clutching balloons and some dressed in Santa hats or full outfits, stood close to parents and jumped up and down at the sounds of drummers and bagpipers. Palestinian security forces channelled visitors behind security barriers as troupes of scouts from Christian towns and villages across the West Bank marched through the city.