The city where Christians believe Jesus was born is usually a focal point of the holiday, with thousands packing the streets and filling the hotels.
Musicians banging drums and playing bagpipes have marched through the biblical town of Bethlehem in Christmas celebrations, to the delight of smaller than usual crowds due to the pandemic.
The scenes from Bethlehem on Friday were reflected in celebrations around the world on the second Christmas Eve dampened by the coronavirus.
Travel restrictions imposed by Israel, the main entry point for foreign visitors heading to the occupied West Bank, home to the traditional birthplace of Jesus, kept international tourists away for a second year.
The ban on nearly all incoming air traffic was meant to slow the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant. In the absence of tourists, local authorities were counting on the small Christian community to lift spirits.
“Last year, our festival was virtual, but this year it will be face to face with popular participation,” Bethlehem’s mayor, Anton Salman, said, optimistic that celebrations would be better than last year’s Christmas.
This year, hundreds of people gathered in the town's central Manger Square as a line of bagpipe-and-drum-playing bands streamed through the area.
Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Roman Catholic clergyman, also joined the celebrations, waving to well-wishers as his motorcade made its way through town.
“This year we see a lot of people, very crowded, and a lot of joy,” he said, before entering the Church of the Nativity to prepare for Midnight Mass.
The loss of international tourism, the lifeblood of Bethlehem's economy, has hit hotels, restaurants and gift shops especially hard.
“Under normal conditions for this time of year, I usually have a 20-meter queue outside,” said Adil Abu Nayaf, owner of an empty food stall in Manger Square.
Over 200,000 Christians, a small but tight-knit community, makes up an estimated 1% to 2% of the population in Israel and the occupied West Bank.
There are also thousands of foreign labourers and African migrants, as well as diplomats and journalists.