Many people cannot mention Israel without thinking of Bethlehem – where Jesus, the King of Kings, was born. The occasion is still celebrated almost everywhere in the world during December as Christmas Day, which could be loosely translated as “the day Christ was born”. With millions of Catholic followers all over the world, almost every child knows that Christmas originated in a manger in Bethlehem.
Bethlehem sits almost smack dab in the center of Israel, just beside Jerusalem. It offers a view of the Dead Sea and the mountains beyond it. The inhabitants of the city are predominantly Moslem and Christian Arabs who depend on holy pilgrimages and tourists for much of their livelihood. They make religious handicrafts out of olive wood and mother-of-pearl, which are snatched up by religious souvenir hunters mostly for their sentimental value alone. Tourists and souvenir hunters are advised to haggle for better prices from the vendors. Bethlehem is still the trade center for many of the surrounding towns and nomads who live in the area as it has been for centuries, but much of the currency earned here comes from tourism.
During the Holy Crusades, Bethlehem was held in reverence by the Crusaders. While the Christian armies occupied Jerusalem, they still crowned their kings in Bethlehem mainly due to the cultural and religious significance of the city. At present, many visitors flock to the city to see the place where Jesus was born, which is now said to be in a grotto under a church built by Constantine in 333 AD to commemorate the place. Another must-see site in Israel, the church is aptly named the Church of the Nativity.