Bethlehem's season gets early start

BETHLEHEM, West Bank - The Christmas season has started earlier this year in the town of Jesus' birth.
  
Several thousand people gathered Sunday to watch the lighting of the Christmas tree in Bethlehem's Manger Square, near the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born.
  
Last year, the more than 12,000 tiny lights on the huge artificial tree were only switched on in mid-December. A Bethlehem official says the holiday festivities were launched earlier this year to expand the season and attract more visitors.
  
Tourism is important to the economy of the Palestinian town near Jerusalem. In the past, Israeli-Palestinian fighting and Israeli movement restrictions kept many away.
  
In Sunday's ceremony, Bethlehem's mayor and the Palestinian Prime Minister switched on the lights as bands played Christmas songs.
 

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