75,000 lights dazzle crowd at pond lighting
Published: Friday, December 6, 2013 at 8:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 6, 2013 at 8:34 p.m.
It was a dazzling display.
As the countdown began, the crowd of a few thousand counted along with anticipation.
At zero, tens of thousands of lights came alive around the duck pond like a swarm of multi-colored fireflies — even more so as the Christmas lights reflected off the pond.
North Florida Regional Medical Center marked the beginning of the holiday season Friday evening with its 24th annual pond lighting ceremony, where volunteers lit up the hospital's duck pond with more than 75,000 lights.
The start the holiday season wasn't the only thing the medical center was celebrating. Last February also marked the hospital's 40th anniversary, said Pamela Rittenhouse, marketing director for the medical center.
"We thought, with the pond lighting at the end of the year, this is a great way to wind up our celebration of 40 years of being here ... (as) the community hospital," she said.
The casual and festive tree lighting has typically seen about 2,500 attend in the past, Rittenhouse said, and this year was no different. The large crowd left little room for standing or walking on the field adjacent to the pond.
"It's crowded and kind of crazy, which is exactly what you'd expect, and we just love it," Rittenhouse said.
The event began as the Buchholz Jazz Band took to the stage to play Christmas music.
Storm Roberts of WKTK-FM, who has emceed the event year after year, introduced a cast of Christmas characters: Frosty the Snowman and Peppermint the Elf, the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who, and Rudolph as well as Santa's other reindeer.
Santa came out last, bursting through a vinyl poster onstage that was adorned with a birthday cake.
Soon more performers took to the stage, including those from Gainesville Ballet Theatre, Hillel Choir and the Yopp! Inc. Children's Choir.
Then came time to honor a group of people who have recently received care at NFRMC.
"A few years back, we thought why don't we use this amazing event as an opportunity to honor some of the people who trust us with their care each year," Rittenhouse said.
Previous years have seen emergency-room patients and moms with their newborns. This year, four cancer patients and survivors along with their physicians joined Roberts, who is also a cancer survivor.
This year's holiday lights display, which involves the largest number of lights the hospital has ever used, according to Rittenhouse, will remain lit each evening through New Year's Eve.
Damien Hunter, of Gainesville, attended the event with his wife and five children, two of whom performed with the Yopp! Inc. Children's Choir. Hunter said that he has attended the event in previous years and is always impressed with the display.
"In the past, it's been pretty amazing," he said. "The lighting itself is pretty dramatic. But, even just driving by on the road — even though you go by 10 or 15 times — it always seems like you see something new every single time you drive by."