It was a subdued Christmas Eve in Bethlehem on Thursday as the global coronavirus pandemic and a strict local lockdown put a damper on the normally joyous celebrations in the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
Raw, rainy weather added to the gloomy atmosphere, where dozens of people gathered in the central Manger Square to greet the Latin Patriarch, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Catholic clergyman in the Holy Land.
Youth marching bands playing Christmas carols on bagpipes, accompanied by pounding drummers, led a procession ahead of the patriarch's arrival early in the afternoon.
Thousands of foreign pilgrims usually flock to Bethlehem for Christmas celebrations. But the closure of Israel's international airport to foreign visitors due to coronavirus restrictions kept tourists away this year.
The Palestinian Authority last week banned intercity travel in the areas it administers in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, keeping even Palestinian visitors away.
The restrictions limited attendance to a dozens of Bethlehem residents and a small entourage of religious officials.
Evening celebrations, when pilgrims normally congregate around the Christmas tree, were canceled and Midnight Mass celebrations led by Pierbattista Pizzaballa were limited to clergy.
The 85-year-old Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who usually attends the solemn occasion, said he would not participate.
The coronavirus has dealt a heavy blow to Bethlehem's tourism sector, the lifeblood of the local economy. Restaurants, hotels and gift shops have been shuttered.