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Kada Morris age 4 (left) and her sister Kacelyn age 6 receive press-on tattoos from Alexandra Young at the Annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in High Springs. The tattoo booth was sponsored by the Santa Fe High School Color Guard. (Today photo/RAY CARSON)

HIGH SPRINGS – On the evening of Nov. 18, sirens wailed and emergency lights flashed as police cars and a fire engine came racing down Main Street in High Springs. But there was no disaster or emergency. They were escorting a famous guest to a waiting crowd of anxious children. Santa Claus had come to town.

His visit was just one of the activities at the Annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on High Springs Main Street. For the past 15 years, the High Springs Chamber of Commerce has hosted the event as an opening celebration for the holiday season. The ceremony is marked by the lighting of a decorated Christmas tree in the open lot next to True Value on Main Street in the downtown area.

There were a variety of activities, entertainment and vendors during the ceremony, with most of them geared toward children. Christmas is the most celebrated religious and cultural holiday in America and billions of people around the world celebrate it as the day that Christ was born. But beyond its religious meaning it is also a celebration of good will to all – a time to gather with family and friends, a time to share with others, enjoy good food and exchange gifts. Especially for children, there is a special magic to the holiday and the local chamber of commerce wanted to make sure that magic is celebrated for all the children in the community. The Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony marks the beginning of a demonstration of the Thanksgiving and Christmas spirit in High Springs.

While the tree lighting and Santa's visit were the main attraction, there were additional food vendors and musical entertainment. The merchants on Main Street hosted an open house, some providing treats or activities for the children.

In the plaza where the event takes place, various tables were set up with activities such as face painting, Christmas card making, decorating ornaments and cookie decorating with jelly beans and licorice. Other tables offered children small gifts and sweets. Youngsters were able to get stick-on tattoos, lighted rings and small toys.

According to event organizer and head elf, Vicki Cox, organizations such as First Baptist Church, Sammy's ministry, Kiwanis and the Junior Beta club helped to make the event a success, with each year getting bigger. It is a community driven event, geared toward keeping Christmas traditions and Christmas music alive for the community’s children.

The evening started with music provided by Antoinette and Randy Hunt, with Michael Loveday acting as master of ceremonies and sound man. The First Baptist Church provided a choral group who sang to children as their parents strolled to various booths to share in the activities. Chamber member Tom Weller took to the stage to announce the annual Christmas Tree Lighting. With a countdown from the crowd, the lights on the tree turned on, bathing the surrounding area in a burst of color.

But for most of the children, the most anticipated event was the arrival of Santa Claus. With lights flashing and sirens wailing, he arrived in the High Springs fire truck with a police escort as befitting such an important visitor. Children lined up waiting for a chance to sit on Santa's lap to tell him their Christmas gift wishes. One by one they were escorted to Santa by Cox, who dressed as the head elf for Santa. With wide eyes and plenty of smiles, the children got to talk to Santa, creating a memory that would last a lifetime and bringing that special magic that is Christmas.

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