Millions join Christmas festivities

Millions of people around the world are celebrating Christmas, one of the most important and widely-observed Christian holidays.

Pope Benedict the sixteenth celebrated Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve in the splendor of St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

Marking the birth of Jesus Christ, he made an appeal for abused children around the world, those who are exploited and denied love.

Later on Thursday the Pope will deliver his traditional Christmas Day speech, greeting the faithful around the globe in 64 languages.

In the Middle East, some Christians are celebrating the day despite the fear of violence in Palestinian controlled territories. Thousands of pilgrims are expected to visit Bethlehem.

Meanwhile, dozens of rockets launched from Gaza have hit towns in southern Israel. Violence has increased in the area since a truce between the Islamist group Hamas and Israel ended last week.

On Christmas Eve, hundreds gathered at the Nativity Church, standing on the spot where Jesus was born, praying for peace.

In Russia, the final decorations are now on the main Christmas tree in the Kremlin.

Catholics living in Moscow attended holy mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Afterwards they were treated to a fireworks display to mark the birth of Christ.

The majority of Russians are Orthodox and will celebrate Christmas on January the 7th.

In the US, the economic meltdown has hit Christmas shoppers. People are sticking to their budgets and trying to seek out last-minute bargains for presents.