As Christmas approaches people in many parts of the world have been busy with festive preparations.
As Christmas approaches people in many parts of the world have been busy with festive preparations. But in Bethlehem, on Jordan's West Bank, they have probably been busier than most preparing for the annual influx of thousands of tourists and pilgrims to Christ's birthplace. Both there, and in nearby Jerusalem, the prospect of Christmas talks between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat seem to have given an added impetus to seasonal rejoicing. Many people there are hoping the talks will bring Middle East peace a step nearer.
SYNOPSIS: The Church of the Nativity marks the place where Jesus was born. There were no well-placed street signs to show Mary and Joseph the way, when they arrived in Bethlehem nearly 1,977 years ago. But now the little town has to cater for the thousands who arrive every year for Christmas.
Souvenirs have become big business in Bethlehem, and among the favourites are these olive wood figurines produced by local craftsmen.
The figurines depict all the features of the nativity scene. They have become very popular as Christmas gifts and this year thousands of tourists have already bought them. The craftsmen have had to work overtime to keep up supplies to local stores.
In Jerusalem, Mayor Teddy Kollek and his wife gave their traditional Christmas reception to which representatives of the Christian, Moslem and Jewish faiths were invited. Also among the guests were ambassadors of various countries.
Reporters in Jerusalem say the seasonal feeling of goodwill has been enhanced this year by hopes that Prime Minister Begin's peace initiative will bring about a settlement soon.
Back at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem preparations for the traditional Christmas Eve Mass have been underway.
The church was built over the spot where Christ was born, and in this service it was blessed in preparation for the High Mass.
In Bethlehem this Christmas the seasonal message of "Peace on Earth" should hold special significance for pilgrims and tourists attending the ceremonies.