Families, church officials and government figures marked on Thursday the start of the Christmas festivities in the southern West Bank city of Bethlehem.

As is the case every year Boy Scout groups coming from different parts of the West Bank marched in procession since early morning playing their drums and Scottish bagpipes.

Even though the fine weather and joyful atmosphere encouraged local families to come out and celebrate in the Manger Square at the Church of Nativity, tourist turnout was noticeably low.

Mike Shaheen owns an Oriental Souvenir Store near the Manger Square. He says that no tourists have come to his shop during Christmas week this year.

‘Unlike other years my store is empty, no one is coming, instead I am drinking tea and hoping that some tourists will come’ Mike told IMEMC.

‘The families that manufacture these souvenirs wait all year for the Christmas festivities to make good business, it’s difficult with no tourists to buy those souvenirs’ Mike added.

Amal Badra, a local Christian house wife from Bethlehem said she hoped that next year will be better that this one.

‘We are under a lot of stress, yes you see people out and enjoying the day, but our men work mostly in tourism and related industries but because of the Israeli wall and closures they can’t work which makes it very difficult for our families.’

Amal concluded by saying ‘I hope that next year we will have our independence and we will be able to celebrate peace in the land of peace’.

The Christmas activities will continue all day until mid-night when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will join the Mass at the Nativity church showing his support for, and solidarity with, the local Christian Community.