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A week of tree lighting ceremonies ring in the holidays

COAST CITIES — Tree lighting ceremonies from Del Mar to Oceanside helped kick off the holiday season. Each city showed off its hometown spirit and unique holiday traditions.

Oceanside held its tree lighting ceremony Nov. 29 during the evening Sunset Market. In addition to the market’s 140 produce, retail and food vendors there was also a train ride, horse and carriage, inflatable slide and kids crafts for the holidays.

Spectators waited for Santa’s traditional arrival by fire engine. Then Santa, Mayor Jim Wood and local dignitaries led the crowd in a suspenseful countdown to light the grand 35-foot tree in front of the downtown plaza.

Following the tree lighting kids visited with Santa at the foot of the tree.

“Santa pays a visit on a fire truck, the mayor gives an opening speech, there’s kids crafts and milk and cookies,” Rick Wright, executive director of Oceanside MainStreet, said.

The Oceanside tree lighting ceremony has been held for six years. It was first held when the Sunset Market opened in 2007. The weekly market began with 70 vendors. Now it runs at its top capacity with 140 vendors.

Santa ends the parade. In “Encinitas spirit,” he sports a Hawaiian shirt. Photo by Promise Yee

About 800 spectators gathered for the tree lighting ceremony and 4,000 people visited the Sunset Market throughout the evening.

“I was touched last year when a father of two young boys, 4 and 5 years old, said it was ‘a tradition for our family since our first son was born,’” Wright said. “I’m glad we created this tradition for someone.”

On Dec. 1, both Del Mar and Encinitas lit their city trees.

Del Mar holds a sunset tree lighting and daytime winter wonderland in the village. Kids crafts, face painting, vendors, carriage rides, carolers, dance troops, and a pile of snow to play in are part of the annual tradition.

A live 14-foot tree was lit in the L’Auberge Amphitheater.

Jennifer Grove, executive director of the Del Mar Village Association, said the tree is downsized this year, but the town spirit is as big as ever.

Del Mar has held its tree lighting ceremony and winter wonderland for seven years. It remains a heartfelt collaboration of local businesses and schools.

“It’s a very local homegrown event,” Grove said. “We celebrate friends and neighbors. There’s free cookies and hot chocolate.”

Hollis Soha, 3, of Del Mar, looks with wonder at the town holiday tree. Del Mar held its tree lighting ceremony December 1. Photo by Promise Yee

The longest running tree lighting ceremony is held in Encinitas. The annual tree lighting and holiday parade have been sponsored by the city for 26 years.

Some can recall when the Fire Station No. 1 flagpole was strung with lights in the shape of a tree for the holidays.

A more recent tradition has been to light a tree at the Lumberyard Shopping Center. This tradition first originated when the site was a working lumberyard and began again after the shopping center was established.

Encinitas traditionally lights a “Charlie Brown” size 12-foot tree.

Following the tree lighting there is a Holiday Parade. The parade itself dates back to 1957.

“One night a year we close down the highway,” Nick Buck, recreation supervisor for Parks and Recreation, said. “You can park a chair. It’s cool to hang out on Coast Highway.”

Over the years the long-running parade has seen numerous modifications.

Following the “big horse year” in 2000, when five horse groups participated in the parade, it became a requirement for participants to pick up after animal entries. Now elves armed with shovels and wheelbarrows are a regular part of the parade.

The number of participants boomed in 2001 when YMCA parent and kid groups joined in the parade.

“Participation from the YMCA was huge,” Buck said. “The Y nations have dozens of groups for parents and kids and they all wanted to be in the parade.”

The name of the parade was temporarily changed to the Christmas Parade in 2005, by former Mayor Dan Dalager. The next year the original name was reinstated to ensure that the parade remained inclusive to the whole community.

This year the parade from J Street to D Street included 100 entries, 3,500 participants and an estimate 20,000 spectators.

The parade theme was “stoked for the holidays,” which brought out surfboards, Woodies and Volkswagen buses.

The parade honored former Mayor Rick Shea as its grand marshal and ended with Santa riding in a flatbed Volkswagen bus.


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