In Jesus' Birthplace, Christmas Looking Cheerful Again

After eight bleak years, Jesus

The procession to the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by many to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, is seen in the biblical West Bank town of Bethlehem, Monday, Dec. 24, 2007. (AP)

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) - After eight bleak years, Jesus' birthplace finally has a Christmas season to cheer about.

With calm gradually returning to the West Bank, Bethlehem has again become a magnet for Christmas pilgrims. Hotels are booked solid through January and Manger Square is bustling with tourists.

A large gray wall separates Bethlehem from nearby Jerusalem, and tourists entering the little town must pass through a military checkpoint with barbed wire and watchtowers. But Israeli security officials say they're working with their Palestinian counterparts to ensure easy access.

Bethlehem's mayor says he expects 30,000 visitors on Christmas Eve alone compared with 22,000 last year, with about 5,000 more expected during Orthodox Christmas rites in January.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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