HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The High Springs Chamber of Commerce hosted the 24th Annual Christmas Tree Lighting on a brisk Nov. 26 evening. The event has been held continuously over the years—even through the pandemic.

Pre-Covid in 2019, the park was filled with a record crowd of families bringing their children to watch the Christmas tree lighting and a chance to meet Santa Claus. Businesses and local churches provided booths distributing candy, popcorn, cookies and other treats to the children. Another booth was set up to help children make Christmas ornaments. People dressed as Christmas characters roamed the crowd interacting with the children and posing for photos.  

Then in 2020 with the pandemic ever present, although much of the traditional fun was missing to be replaced by other activities. All the hands-on booths for face painting, gift design, card making and other activities for the children were gone due to social distancing. All treats at the booths were individually wrapped to avoid cross contact. While children still got to sit with Santa, they sat next to him, with Santa wearing a face shield and the kids in required masks. The audience was much smaller as well.

“This year we wanted to bring back the excitement and activities that had made this event a community tradition, but still be safe health wise,” said Chamber President Sharon Decker. The event was more spread out, with open air bleachers near the tree lighting. Much of the close contact games and activities like face painting were gone and all cookies and treats were handed out one at a time by gloved volunteers to limit contact. All the booths and games were held in the Farmers market at the other end of the field. Kids could still make cards and ornaments, but working as individuals to limit contact on the supplies.

The number of vendors was reduced to six, with the tables spread out. The Summit Baptist Church, High Springs Women’s Club and Garden Club had tables for children to make cards, ornaments and Christmas bookmarks. Witness of Christ Ministry gave out free cookies and baked goods. The Pink Flamingo brought a brightly lit food truck offering coffee and hot chocolate. Girl Scouts volunteered to help Santa as he listened to the children's wishes. A large model train also attracted the attention of youngsters. On a larger scale, the High Springs Lions Club brought their Polar Express train over to offer free rides to children. With the “train cars” only seating one child in open air and distanced apart, the tradition continued as the train circled the field.

But for most people it was the tree lighting and a visit from Santa that brought them to the event. As 6:30 p.m. approached, a large crowd gathered near the tree. High Springs Pastor Sammy Nelson was honored as “Citizen of the Year” and he led the crowd with a prayer, Pledge of Allegiance and introduced singer Dani MacKinzie, who sang Christmas songs.

At 6:30 sharp, Santa and Mrs. Claus were introduced and the tree was lit up with a multitude of lights and ornaments supplied by the High Springs CRA. Santa and Mrs. Claus stationed themselves at the Gazebo by the Farmers Market to listen to the long line of excited children and their wishes for Christmas.

“We were really glad how it all worked out,” said Decker. “From what I am being told, this is one of the biggest crowds and I think we were able to make it a great event and bring back the traditional celebration while still making health safety adjustments.’’

Decked sang the praises of volunteers who helped make the evening successful, crediting Chamber members and City staff, including Bruce Gillingham and David Fuller as well as the High Springs Police Department and Chief Antione Sheppard, Pastor Sammy Nelson and his church, and John Decker.

As for the future, Sharon Decker said,” We are looking forward to making it bigger next year and keep the tradition going.”

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