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    Israel Prepares for Thousands of Christian Tourists This Christmas

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    Israel is preparing to receive an estimated 165,000 Christians during the Christmas holiday season.

    The Tourism Ministry has organized events and arranged for facilities in preparation for the thousands of visitors this December until January. Minister Yariv Levin will host the annual pre-Christmas reception which will be attended by ambassadors, church leaders, representatives of Christian organizations and other dignitaries, reports Israel Hayom.

    There will be the traditional parade on Christmas Eve starting from the main street of Nazareth to the city’s Basilica of the Annunciation. A fireworks display will entertain tourists at the end of the parade. On December 25, a mass is scheduled at 10 am in the Basilica.

    A free shuttle bus service will be provided to transport Christian pilgrims between Jerusalem and Bethlehem courtesy of the Tourism Ministry.

    The Ministry said 55% of all tourists who visited the country this year were Christian. The majority of tourists went to the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Via Dolorosa and the Mount of Olives, all in Jerusalem, reports Jewish News Syndicate.

    The town of Bethlehem is also preparing for the throng of people this Christmas season. Mayor Anton Salman said this year’s Christmas will be the best in 20 years.

    In an interview with Reuters, he said, “Since three years (ago), things are going up, this year is better than 2018 and 2018 was better than 2017 and it is a continuous increase in the number of tourists who are coming to the city.”

    The Church of Nativity, the place where Christians believe Jesus was born, has extended its opening hours from sunset to 8 p.m. A new attraction which townspeople hope will captivate Christians is the wooden relic supposed to be from the manger used by baby Jesus. It was recently sent back to Bethlehem from Rome.

    To accommodate the growing number of tourists, existing hotels are in expansion mode, while five new hotels are being developed. Joey Canavati, manager of the Alexander Hotel in Bethlehem, revealed that the hotel plans to build more rooms—from 58 to 110. The hotel even had bookings through to 2021.

    “(With) the number of tourists that have been coming in this year we have a huge lack of rooms here in Bethlehem,” Canavati said.

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