Thousands of Christians have descended for Christmas Eve celebrations in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

Visitors converged Tuesday on the town's large Christmas tree in Manger Square, just beside the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born.

Palestinian marching bands greeted visitors with the sound of drums and bagpipes filling the cool, clear air. Vendors hawked snacks and holiday trinkets.

The Palestinian tourism minister says this year's celebrations capped the most successful year in history for Palestinian tourism, giving a much-needed boost to the local economy.

The Vatican's top clergyman in the Holy Land is to celebrate midnight Mass later in the evening.

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