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Abdulazeez Adeshina
National Open University of Nigeria
Bsc. Economics
200Level, Nigeria.
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Pilgrims from across the world gathered in Bethlehem on Monday for Christmas Eve, queueing to see the grotto where Jesus is believed to have been born and taking in a festive parade.
Midnight mass was to be held in Bethlehem later , while Pope Francis was also due to hold mass at the Vatican as Christians celebrate the traditional day of Jesus ’ s birth after a tumultuous year.
Much of that tumult has come from Washington , and the festive spirit was dampened there as the national Christmas tree went dark on the third day of a US government shutdown .
The US National Park Service said that it would remain unlit and closed to the public “ until further notice , ” with checks being made for damage following an attempt by an intruder on Friday to climb the tree .
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The tree , whose spectacular lights were switched on at a ceremony attended by Trump earlier this month, became a forlorn symbol of the dysfunction gripping Washington two years into his presidency.
In Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank , the Palestinian scouts and a bagpipe band paraded in Manger Square across from the Church of the Nativity, built where Christians say Mary gave birth to Jesus .
Crowds, some wearing Santa hats or holding balloons , looked on at the square decked out with a giant Christmas tree and a manger as carols in Arabic played through speakers.
The Catholic archbishop for the Holy Land , Pierbattista Pizzaballa, arrived later in the afternoon and was to lead midnight mass .
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was to be among dignitaries attending the ceremony .
This year, visitors are able to view the Church of the Nativity’ s newly restored mosaics after they were recently cleaned and repaired in a major project .
The first church was built on the site in the fourth century, though it was replaced after a fire in the sixth century.
A newer and more spacious church , St. Catherine, is located next door and is where midnight mass is held.
“ It ’ s a great opportunity to be in such a symbolic location for Christmas , ” said Lea Gudel , a 21-year - old French student studying in Jerusalem , who was in Manger Square on Monday morning.

– ‘ Continue courageously’ –

Bethlehem, located near Jerusalem but cut off from the city by Israel ’ s separation barrier, has seen an increase in visitors this season after several down years due to unrest linked to the Israeli -Palestinian conflict .

Palestinian tourism officials and hotel operators have reported their strongest season in years.

“ This year is much more calm , much better than last year , ” said Abeer Nasser, a Palestinian from the nearby town of Beit Sahour who was with her son and daughter and was planning to attend midnight mass .

“ Every year I feel more in the mood to celebrate despite the political situation , ” the 37-year -old added , referring to the Israeli occupation .

Later in the day , musical groups took the stage at Manger Square in front of the Christmas tree , illuminated as night fell , to sing Christmas carols.

Beyond Bethlehem, Christians worldwide were preparing to mark Christmas after a year in which leaders warned over violence against fellow worshippers.

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