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Cold drizzle didn’t dampen the spirits of the hundreds who turned out Dec. 1 to see the lighting of the Port Townsend Holiday Tree.
“We estimate typically around 700 to 800 people” in attendance each year, said Mari Mullen, executive director of the Port Townsend Main Street Program, which organized the event. “It seemed like there was really more that was going all the way up the hill to Jefferson Street. It seemed like it was very strong attendance.”
Devon Helman, 12, has come to the event every year since he can remember to participate in the festivities with his mother, Sally Helman.
He said he comes to “watch everybody singing and seeing Santa come up there and turn on the Christmas tree. It is pretty amazing and joyful.”
The annual event unfolded in the twilight hours at the Haller Fountain. The grand fir tree was donated by the Ryan Family of Port Townsend.
To kick off the gathering, the Wild Rose Chorale led a sing-a-long of holiday carols, which was followed by an excerpt from Key City Public Theatre’s “Every Christmas Story Ever Told.” Mayor Deborah Stinson wished everyone Happy Holidays, and then Santa arrived by the Kiwanis Choo Choo.
“The holidays are all about family and coming together and celebrating together, and so bringing the full community together, this is incredibly important,” Stinson said as she awaited the arrival of Jolly St. Nick. “It is a wonderful opportunity.”
Stinson said her favorite part of the event is seeing the joy in the faces of those gathered.
“Just seeing everybody upbeat and excited and having fun,” she said. “We have the carolers, we get to see the plays, we get to see Santa.”
During the gathering, the Main Street elves circulated in the crowd and distributed jingle bells, which were rung in a cacophony of excitement.
Once he arrived, Santa asked for everyone’s help to light the tree. After the countdown, he flipped a “magical” candy cane switch to illuminate the tree.
“We just appreciate Santa making Port Townsend one of his first stops during this busy time of year,” Mullen said.
“This year, we lit up the bell tower right after the tree lighting, and the Main Street elves rang the bell to ring in the holidays in Port Townsend,” Mullen said.
Additional lighting by Fyerlite Grip and Lighting added a more theatrical atmosphere to the Haller Fountain area. Giant snowflake-shaped lights were projected onto the Elks Building and adjacent buildings.
“The lights on the building are pretty fun this year,” said Oceana Kane, who has participated in the event for the past two years.
Kane said she comes to see kids and Santa and the singing.
“You know, the fun stuff,” she said. “This is the magic of Christmas. This is what it is all about. The little ones, that is the most fun.”
Azuriel Mayo said “kicking off the whole season” was the best part.
After the tree lighting, Santa visited with children. While they waited in line, they made ornaments with the Main Street elves.
“We had a lot of fun afterwards at the Cotton Building where Santa listened to the kids’ Christmas wishes,” Mullen said. “There were at least 150 kids there with their parents, plus grandparents, and they could do ornament making as well, and that was just a really fun event, too.”
Mullen was grateful for the volunteers and organizations who made the event possible, including the Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader, KPTZ 91.9 FM, Port Townsend Kiwanis, Michael’s Handyman and Labor Services, Ted Krysinski/Fyerlite Grip and Lighting, Steve Ballou, Chris Kauffman, the city of Port Townsend and police and parks departments, and the American Legion.
“I think it was a big success,” Mullen said. “We really just had some great helpers — great staff and crew and volunteers.”