People in Canada and around the world are celebrating Christmas in both spiritual and secular ways as Christians mark the birth of Jesus.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement that Christmas is "a time when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, and an occasion for Canadians of all background to come together in appreciation of our most fortunate country."

Harper called Canada the best country in the world, an island of stability and "the bright hope for people the world over." He asked people to be mindful of the less fortunate and grateful for the service of men and women in uniform. 

Here's a look at some of the ways the holiday on Tuesday is being marked around the globe.

Bethlehem

Thousands of Christians from the over the world packed Manger Square in Bethlehem Monday to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the ancient West Bank town where he was born.

For their Palestinian hosts, this holiday season was an especially joyous one, with the hardships of the Israeli occupation that so often clouded previous Christmas Eve celebrations eased by the United Nations' recent recognition of an independent state of Palestine.

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Pope Benedict XVI leaves at the end of the Christmas night mass in the Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. (Max Rossi/Reuters)

Festivities led up to the Midnight Mass at St. Catherine's Church, next to the fourth-century Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born.

"From this holy place, I invite politicians and men of good will to work with determination for peace and reconciliation that encompasses Palestine and Israel in the midst of all the suffering in the Middle East," said the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal in his annual address. "Please continue to fight for a just cause to achieve peace and security for the people of the Holy Land."

Hundreds of people greeted Twal in Manger Square, outside the Church of Nativity. The mood was festive under sunny skies, with children dressed in holiday finery or in Santa costumes, and marching bands playing in the streets.

Vatican City

In the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI lit a Christmas peace candle set on the windowsill of his private studio.

Pilgrims, tourists and Romans gathered below in St. Peter's Square for the inauguration Monday evening of a Nativity scene and cheered when the flame was lit.

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A Palestinian dressed as Santa Claus rings a bell in the West Bank town of Bethlehem ahead of Christmas. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)

Later, the pope led Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, prayed that Israelis and Palestinians live in peace and freedom, and asked the faithful to pray for strife-torn Syria as well as Lebanon and Iraq.

The ceremony began at 10 p.m. local time Monday with the blare of trumpets, meant to symbolize Christian joy over the news of Christ's birth in Bethlehem. The basilica's main bell tolled outside, and the sweet voices of the Vatican's boys' choir wafted across the packed venue.

Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican traditionally began at midnight, but the start time was moved up years ago so as to give the 85-year-old pontiff more time to rest before his Christmas Day speech. That address is to be delivered at midday Tuesday from the basilica's central balcony.

Iraq

In Iraq, Christians gathered for services with tight security, including at Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation church, the scene of a brutal October 2010 attack that killed more than 50 worshippers and wounded scores more.

The exact number of Christians remaining in Iraq is not known, but it has fallen sharply from as many as 1.4 million before the U.S.-led invasion nearly a decade ago to about 400,000 to 600,000, according to community leaders cited by the U.S. State Department.

Spain

Winners of Spain's cherished Christmas lottery — the world's richest — celebrated Saturday in more than a dozen locations where lucky tickets were sold, a moment of uplift for a country enduring another brutal year of economic hardship.

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Kulio Acebal, owner of one of the lottery shops that sold a winning number of the Spanish lottery, celebrates. (Eloy Alonso/Reuters)

The lottery sprinkled a treasure chest of $3.3 billion Cdn in prize money around the country. 

Unlike lotteries that generate a few big winners, Spain's version, now celebrating its 200th anniversary, has always shared the wealth more evenly instead of concentrating on vast jackpots, so thousands of tickets yield some kind of return.

Peterson Air Force Base  

Volunteers at a Colorado Air Force base monitoring maps showing Santa Claus' progress have answered more than 41,000 phone calls from children asking about the jolly old elf.  

Phones have been ringing nonstop Monday at the base, headquarters of the North American Aerospace Command's annual Santa-tracking operation.

Hundreds of helpers at Norad are taking calls and tracking Santa's location on large projection screens. They're posting updates for nearly 1.2 million Facebook fans and more than 120,000 Twitter followers.

With files from CBC News