Thousands of Christians flock to Bethlehem over Christmas

The Christmas tree in the courtyard of the Nativity Church in Bethlehem after the lighting ceremony on December 6, 2014.(Photo: Reuters)

Thousands of Christians flocked to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve to celebrate Christ's birth, and pray for peace in the war-torn region.

Bethlehem is celebrated as the city where Jesus was born, and thousands make the pilgrimage to the biblical city from around the world.

"My son and I and my husband came for Christmas to see, you know, be right here where it all took place," Irene Adkins told the Associated Press. She and her family travelled to Bethlehem from Lorain, Ohio. "It feels wonderful."

Musicians with horns, bagpipes, and drums entertained visitors in Manger Square, and street merchants sold Santa hats, balloons and sweet treats. The Church of the Nativity is another popular tourist destination, as it is traditionally believed to mark the birthplace of Jesus.

The Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem were a welcome respite from the unrest in Palestine. Peace talks with Israel collapsed this year, and clashes on the Gaza Strip have caused thousands of deaths. A sign near the Church of the Nativity read: "All I want for Christmas is justice."

"Our message this Christmas is a message of peace like every year, but what we added this year is that all we want from Christmas is justice," Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Maaya said. "Justice for our people, justice for our case and the right to live like all other people in the world in our independent state without the occupation."

Visitors to the area hoped that the Christmas season would bring positivity to the land.

"We're very happy to share Christmas with the Palestinian people and we hope that the peace and joy that comes with Christmas will spread from this place to the whole earth and that the people of all races will learn to live in harmony together," British tourist Simon Bassett said.