'It's a tradition': Tree-lighting ceremony marks start of holiday season in Annapolis

Lauren Lumpkin
Contact Reporterllumpkin@capgaznews.com

For some, it’s a tradition. For others, a fun date night. And for the kids, it’s a chance to come face-to-face with Santa Claus.

Hundreds of families, couples and county residents packed City Dock Sunday evening for the Grand Illumination and tree lighting ceremony. The annual celebration marks the beginning of the holiday season in Annapolis.

Although Sunday night’s weather hovered around 50 degrees, people in the crowd still reached for cups of hot chocolate. Children, bundled up in winter coats, climbed on their parents’ backs for a better view of the stage.

Mason Ellis, 7, was among them. He came to talk to Santa Claus.

His request was simple: a drone, so that he can order pizza for himself.

Mason’s mother, Tay, also brought her 13-year-old daughter, mother, husband and friends to the tree-lighting ceremony. Sunday night was her family’s first time attending the Annapolis event, she said.

“It was a great experience,” said Ellis, 31, as she rounded up her family to head home and prepare a Christmas tree of their own. “It’s a nice family event. We had a great time.”

The night was interspersed with performances from the Arundel Middle School jazz band and the Talent Machine Company, a performing arts group for kids. They danced and sang to holiday hits like “Frosty the Snowman,” “Feliz Navidad” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

The Downtown Annapolis Partnership joined the Annapolis Jaycees to host the ceremony, one of the city’s most anticipated traditions. Sunday marked Gavin Buckley's first year at the event as Annapolis mayor.

“I got my Christmas present last year when I became mayor,” Buckley said. “It can’t get any better for me.”

The crowd took a break from discussing holiday plans to take a moment of silence to remember the five Capital Gazette employees who were killed in a newsroom shooting on June 28.

The audience traditionally counts down from 10 before the tree is illuminated. But on Sunday, they counted down from five — one second each for Gerald Fischman, Robert Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters.

Then, the tree started to glitter.

The massive holiday tree, donated to the city by locally owned Homestead Gardens, towered above the crowd. It bore a thick, red ribbon, gold lights, bulbous ornaments and a silver tree topper.

Although Chris Flores, a 22-year-old midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy, wasn’t all that impressed.

“I think it would have been better with multi-colored lights,” Flores said. The Annapolis-native has attended the Grand Illumination on-and-off for about 12 years.

Flores was joined by Natalie Stahl, 21 — also his date.

“It was fun,” she said.

Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus even showed up to remind the children in the audience they still have time to “be good” before Christmas.

Which is good news for Alexis Grove, 10, who just nailed down her wishlist.

“I want to ask for a camera because I want to be a photographer,” she said.

Alexis came with her mother and a group family friends, including Julie Smith, 48, who said she brings her own kids every year.

The Hillsmere resident and county schools employee admits she gets teary-eyed when the tree finally lights up.

“It’s a tradition,” she said. “Just being downtown, in the city, is fun.”

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