Bethlehem was described by one of my colleagues as a cleaner, more liberal version of Nablus with less falafel.
Maybe he wasn't too far off.
We went the week before Christmas and were surprised to see it still fairly quiet and not actually all that Christmassy. This is putting aside the many shops selling a host of statuettes and a wide variety of religiously inclined household goods.
Admittedly, we may have had some fairly unrealistic expectations. It would not be far off to say that, for us, traffic stopping processions of praying nuns, long robed monks stopping at a corner store for shawarmas or crazed religious pilgrims bewailing society's departure from The Path would have seemed completely natural.
It is, after all,the birthplace of Jesus.
Being that as it may - it was not the case.
There were, however, large groups of non crazed pilgrims arriving by the bus load. They were mostly Nigerian tourist groups with a few Italian and Korean groups hanging about as well.
The Church of Nativity, built over the cave Jesus is believed to have been born in, wandering around Manger Square and visiting the wall were all we had time for that day but I'd say it's definitely worth another visit to get to know the actual city.
The old Roman and Ottoman architecture of the city reflect sunlight off large picturesque buildings. There are spires everywhere and the cobbled streets leading off Manger Square into the market transport you to a place of total whimsy in your head.
Below are pictures of the city itself, the Church of Nativity and a nativity museum which featured nativity scenes from around the world.
The entrance to the church; the aptly named door of humility. It's only about 4 feet high.
the staircase leading you down to Jesus's birthspot
The spot where Jesus was born
A deserted room in the church that we stumbled on by mistake. The many layers of building that have taken place over the centuries show through the cracks.
Within this spire is a winding staircase.
A life size scene from China