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Both sides of Highway 116 on either side of the Nordland General Store were lined with cars, trucks and other vehicles well before the scheduled tree lighting Dec. 1. Locals clustered in front of the festively lit storefront in such crowded numbers that someone had to call out “car” any time a vehicle needed to pass by.
“Keep in mind, folks, we are on a state highway here,” said Dan Powell, leader of the Unexpected Brass Band, even as his musicians kept the masses captivated with their spirited renditions of traditional Christmas carols, including a some a cappella sing-alongs of European seasonal songs, on the brisk evening.
Tom Rose, co-owner of the Nordland General Store, praised the band, which has performed in venues as far afield as Italy.
Rose has long since lost track of how long the tree lighting has been a tradition on Marrowstone Island, with a new tree set up across the street from his store near the start of the month of December. But he and Powell both acknowledged the tragedy that almost precluded this year’s ceremony from taking place.
“For years, Greg Lalish got the trees ready for us,” Powell told his audience outside the general store. “Unfortunately, this year, he passed on,” he added, as the attendees voiced sympathies and sorrow, “But before he died, he was able to pick out one last tree.”
As Powell’s final line drew cheers, Rose said Lalish had died “about a week and a half” before the ceremony, leaving Rose scrambling.
“I started searching online when I got a text from Greg’s widow, Paula,” Rose said. “She told me he’d saved up a tree before he went, and I hadn’t even known about it.”
Rose estimated he spent at least six hours stringing lights through the tree’s branches beforehand, which he deemed typical, especially since he guessed this year’s tree stands close to 25 feet tall.
The crowd gave way to brief outcries of dismay when the 7 p.m. lighting of the tree flickered momentarily back into darkness, but it was merely one of Rose’s pranks.
“I do that every year,” Rose said with a laugh.
Following the Saturday night tree lighting, Santa Claus — who’d already made a brief appearance during the evening — returned by boat at noon to the pier across the street from the Nordland General store for kids to get their photos taken with him, and to tell him their Christmas wishes.
“Our Santa is really great with the kids, and I just love doing all this,” Rose said. “I’ve always enjoyed Christmas, and this has become one of those things that always happens here every year.”