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Pilgrims gather in Bethlehem's Grotto of the Nativity, where tradition holds Jesus was born, as midnight approaches on Christmas Eve. The small, cave-like space would fit in many Canadians' living room.

Janine Murphy

For current information on visiting shrines and partaking in religious services in Bethlehem, contact the Christian Information Centre in nearby Jerusalem (; 972-2-627-2692). Call several weeks in advance to obtain free tickets to midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity – the passes are snapped up quickly. Even if you can't secure one, consider travelling to Bethlehem anyway. The atmosphere is festive throughout the holidays and the town is full of other holy sites that host special Christmas Eve services. Book accommodations early to avoid becoming the butt of a "no room at the inn" joke.

Pay close attention to security warnings on news reports and the Department of Foreign Affairs website ( But don't be intimidated by independent travel to Bethlehem. The town depends heavily on tourism and its citizens are exceptionally friendly hosts. Visit for more general information.

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