Christmas pilgrims gather in Bethlehem after hard year

A clergyman holds a crucifix in Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity as Christians gather for Christmas celebrations in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, on December 24, 2014Millions of Christians around the world began Christmas celebrations Wednesday, with worshippers in the Middle East marking the occasion after a violence-plagued year that brought suffering to many. The not-so-little West Bank town of Bethlehem was bustling with activity ahead of the biggest night of the year which will culminate in midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity built over the spot where Christians believe the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus. Outside the church at Manger Square, a man dressed as Father Christmas handed out sweets next to a giant green Christmas tree decorated with red, black and silver baubles — the colours of the Palestinian flag. “For many of you, the music of your Christmas hymns will also be accompanied by tears and sighs,” Pope Francis wrote in a long letter addressed to Christians in the Middle East.

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