Millions of Christians across continents celebrated Christmas while observing their respective traditions.

Pope Benedict XVI held the traditional mass and addressed the gathering at St Peter's Square in the Vatican.

The pontiff called for ending the bloodshed in Syria which has been facing an uprising for the last 21 months.

"I appeal for an end to the bloodshed and easier access for the relief of refugees and the displaced, may peace spring up for the people of Syria, deeply wounded and divided by a conflict that does not spare even the defenceless and reaps innocent victims," said the pontiff during his conventional Christmas message known as Urbi et Orbi.

However, in war-torn Syria itself, Christians, who are frequently under attack from the Islamic majority, are not so optimistic despite the festival season.

"This time last year we expected for the crisis to end in a month or two. But a year on it's still going. People are sad because we don't know what's going to happen or when the crisis will be resolved. We can't see a way out," a Christian shopkeeper told Euronews.

Scores of people from Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan participated in a Christmas mass held in the Jordanian capital Amman, praying for peace.

In the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, thousands of pilgrims gathered to celebrate the first Christmas after the UN upgrade of Palestine.

"Please continue to fight for a just cause to achieve peace and security for the people of the Holy Land. The path [to statehood] remains long, and will require a united effort," said the Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal. The top Roman Catholic cleric said during his Christmas Eve Mass that the celebrations mark "the birth of Christ our Lord and the birth of the state of Palestine".

In Nigeria, a gun attack in a village killed five Christians, people including a pastor.