ENCINITAS — About 100 Encinitas residents gathered on 4th and C streets to countdown to the lighting of the city’s 86-foot-tall heritage tree and share hot cider and carols on Friday.
The Norfolk Island Pine was planted in the 1950s and has been strung with lights annually for the past 21 years. It stands as the tallest living lit holiday tree in San Diego County.
The city does not sponsor the tree lighting. Neighbors, local businesses and service clubs come together each year to provide a boom truck, put up 2,000 lights, wire up temporary electricity and pay the power bill.
“It’s a fabulous community landmark,” Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer said. “It’s really a community effort. It’s all donations from the community. It’s a much beloved tradition here.”
The tree’s blue lights can be seen throughout the Old Encinitas community and out at sea.
“It’s spectacular,” Encinitas resident Jim Filanc said. “The whole thing is blue. You can see it from 40 miles at sea. It’s the beacon on the coast. It’s pretty amazing.”
Annual tree lighting efforts are led by Encinitas resident Louis Ortiz, who strings the lights and rallies the community to donate needed resources. Filanc is a lifelong friend of Ortiz.
“He’s one of the angels in the community,” Filanc said. “Twenty-one years ago he said he wanted to do something more for the community, so on his own time, energy and money he lit the first Christmas tree. It’s been a religion ever since, and a passion of his to see the community has this moment.”
The tree has its own address in order to have its own electric meter. A local construction company volunteers to put in temporary electrical wiring for the tree each year.
This year the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce donated funds to purchase LED lights, which will lower electric costs. Encinitas Rotary Club volunteered to pay the energy bill.
On Friday SDG&E connected the power and energized it just hours before the tree lighting ceremony.
Residents plan to collect donations to install a permanent meter pedestal next year so there is a power source to the tree for years to come.