Westporters welcomed the beginning of the holiday season Thursday evening with a ceremony to light the town's Christmas tree at Town Hall, attracting scores of celebrants.

"This is the first outdoor tree lighting in Westport in probably many, many years," said First Selectman Gordon Joseloff. "We used to have it on Main Street, so I'm delighted to have it on the front lawn of Town Hall. It's a time that we should all come together, no matter what we believe, because we are all Westporters."

When the lights on the 40-foot Norway Spruce tree blazed on, the crowd let out a boisterous cheer. Several youngsters took a run around the tree to celebrate the occasion.

The tree lighting also is a feature in efforts by town officials and local merchants recently to foster more evening activity downtown.

"It's a positive change for downtown," said state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, who led a downtown planning committee while he served as a Representative Town Meeting member. "It's great to so many Westporters, especially young Westporters, turning out for the kickoff of the holiday season. This is where the community comes together."

After the tree lighting, children with their parents scurried across the street to the Westport Historical Society where they enjoyed hot cocoa.

Many families then journeyed down Myrtle Avenue to Christ and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church for a festive holiday gathering sponsored by the Downtown Merchants Association, which featured a musical performance by the Staples High School Orphenians, food and other holiday fare.