World

Christian pilgrims descend on Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations

  • Minister in charge of Supporting Women's Empowerment Haruko Arimura arrives in kimono at the prime minister's official residence for Imperial Palace to attend the attestation ceremony, in Tokyo, Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014. Shinzo Abe was re-elected by Japan's parliament on Wednesday to serve another term as prime minister after winning a renewed mandate for his "Abenomics" strategies that helped revive the world's third-biggest economy. Abe appointed a former military officer, Gen Nakatani, as defense minister, but kept the other members of his previous Cabinet. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

    Minister in charge of Supporting Women's Empowerment Haruko Arimura arrives in kimono at the prime minister's official residence for Imperial Palace to attend the attestation ceremony, in Tokyo, Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014. Shinzo Abe was re-elected by Japan's parliament on Wednesday to serve another term as prime minister after winning a renewed mandate for his "Abenomics" strategies that helped revive the world's third-biggest economy. Abe appointed a former military officer, Gen Nakatani, as defense minister, but kept the other members of his previous Cabinet. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)  (The Associated Press)

  • Christian pilgrims from Nigeria pray inside the Grotto of the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

    Christian pilgrims from Nigeria pray inside the Grotto of the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)  (The Associated Press)

  • Christian pilgrims from Nigeria pray inside the Grotto of the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

    Christian pilgrims from Nigeria pray inside the Grotto of the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)  (The Associated Press)

Christian pilgrims from around the world have begun to gather in the biblical town of Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations at the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

On a crisp, sunny day, thousands of people crowded into Manger Square, stopping in restaurants and admiring the town's Christmas tree. Marching bands and scout troops are entertaining the visitors.

The celebrations are bringing a lift to an area after a difficult year. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed last spring, and Israel battled Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip during a 50-day war over the summer.

Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal led a procession from his Jerusalem headquarters into Bethlehem, passing through the Israeli separation barrier that surrounds much of the town. He said he hopes 2015 will be better than "this difficult year."