Thomas Center tree-lighting provides much to spark holiday spirit
Published: Saturday, December 1, 2012 at 11:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 1, 2012 at 11:24 p.m.
Children waited in line for the chance to sit on Santa's lap.
Logan Sprague, 3, was so eager to meet Santa that he ran forward before those waiting in front of him. His father had to lunge forward to hold him back and explain to Logan that he too had to wait his turn.
In previous years, said Logan's father, Lenny Sprague, Logan was too shy to go through with sitting on Santa's lap.
"Previous to this he would get excited but then he would change his mind at the last second. Now he's like ‘Santa Claus, Santa Claus!' " said Sprague.
Logan's newfound courage was no doubt one of countless discoveries Saturday evening as the city of Gainesville officially ushered in the holidays by hosting its annual Tree Lighting Celebration at the Historic Thomas Center. The festive occasion included caroling, carriage rides and, of course, Santa.
"What we do here is simply about hearing some beautiful holiday music, seeing Santa for the young kids (and) getting a carriage ride around a beautiful neighborhood," said David Ballard, event coordinator for the city's Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs. "I think all of those things combine to give that feeling, because I really think what holidays are about is evoking memories ... No matter what our faiths or beliefs are, it can give that ‘Ah, this is that nice time of the year where even Ebenezer Scrooge can be a nice guy.' "
The evening offered much to lift the spirits of those in attendance.
-- The Singers of the Reformation, dressed in Renaissance garb, sang Christmas carols and Renaissance-era vocal compositions such as "Dona Nobis Pacem" (Give us Peace).
-- There was apple cider and shortbread cookies for everyone to savor.
-- In the Thomas Center's Spanish Court, the Gypsy Guerrilla Band played "Oh, Christmas Tree."
-- Children responded in wide-eyed awe when the 35-foot-tall cedar tree came alive with countless white Christmas tree lights.
-- The Gainesville Harmony Show Chorus, dressed in Victorian attire, sang "He'll be Coming Down the Chimney," — a Christmas take on "She'll Be Coming Down the Mountain" — among other carols.
While many families gathered in line to see Santa, many others stood in a long line awaiting the chance to take a carriage ride through the surrounding Duck Pond neighborhood, which was lined with luminaries provided by the Duck Pond Associates, who organized the carriage rides.
The event has been hosted by the Thomas Center for at least the past 25 years and is usually attended by about 800 to 1,000 people, according to Ballard.
This was the Spragues' first year attending the tree lighting and Lenny Sprague said he thinks it's a wonderful way to kick off the holiday season.
"We love it because … you never really get to come here when it's all dressed up on the inside unless it's for a wedding. So it's a great opportunity," he said.