Mary and Joseph couldn't get a room there, either. Plus ça change, one might say, about news of a bed shortage in Jesus's birthplace, Bethlehem. But it is news. Tourism, the mainstay of the West Bank Palestinian town, has been in freefall for years now, a casualty of growing Islamic militancy among the Palestinians and Israel's policy of ringing the town with settlements, so that it increasingly looks and feels like an open prison. Nothing much has improved on either front this year, yet Bethlehem's 34 hotels are fully booked this Christmas and the town is planning to build several more next year to cope with rising demand.
Are pilgrims getting tougher? Perhaps they have been mulling John Bunyan's famous lines: "There's no discouragement, shall make him once relent, his first avowed intent, to be a pilgrim."