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48 hours in Bethlehem

Clive Nicholls visits the birthplace of Christianity

the girls that chat excitedly as they dash up the steps of the church. A proud mother, dressed to the nines, shares the moment with her daughter.

The church that they are going to is a bit special; it's the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and stands over the spot where Jesus was born.

With Christmas fast approaching, schools will be planning their nativity plays. Nowadays these often include aliens and spaceships with the odd sea creature thrown in. The real story is simpler, yet so much more dramatic. Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem and Jesus was born in a stable and the world changed for all time. Emperor Constantine built the first church here in 326, it was rebuilt in 530 and has been revamped over the years but it remains essentially the same.

Bethlehem is just a few miles south of Jerusalem and if you are there seeing the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus spent his last days, it made sense to see where the story all started.

Bethlehem is in Palestinian territory so you may need you passport. You can get a taxi to the checkpoint, walk through and pick up an Arab taxi the other side. Alternatively, take an Arab bus that will take you all the way.

I had an Arab driver and we drove through without being stopped either way.

It is a wondrous place and if you can fit it in as part of a Holyland tour you won't be disappointed.

For all those planning the the school nativity plays: I didn't see any aliens or space rockets there. Never have been, never will be!

What do you think to this story? Have you been to Bethlehem

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