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November 21, 2007 > The glow of holiday tree lightings

The glow of holiday tree lightings

By Terrie Rowe
Photos By Jan Giovannini-Hill, Susi Garcia, Russell Foote, and the Niles Merchants Association

As soon as the Thanksgiving leftovers are tucked away, holiday tree lighting ceremonies begin in the Greater Tri-City area. Local communities kick off the Christmas season with ceremonies that range from short and simple to elaborate festivities, complete with skating, concerts and, crafts.

Public gatherings to light a community tree and officially launch the Christmas season became part of the American culture on Dec. 24, 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge lit the first National Christmas Tree. The President stood in the White House Ellipse at the foot of a 48-foot balsam fir and pushed a button to illuminate 2,500 electric bulbs in red, white and green that adorned its branches. Ceremonies at this first National Tree lighting included caroling led by the Epiphany Church choir, and a concert by the U.S. Marine Band.

Studying the chronology of the national Christmas tree lighting ceremonies is like looking at a snapshot of U.S. history. In 1941, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Sir Winston Churchill appeared at President Franklin Roosevelt's side for the tree lighting. For the next two years, the tree remained dark due to wartime blackouts. In the mid-fifties, after World War II and the Korean War, the theme of the event evolved to emphasize a national desire for peace. The ceremony was renamed the "Christmas Pageant of Peace." Smaller live trees representing the 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia, formed a "Pathway of Peace."

In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower lit the first national Christmas tree for the new Pageant of Peace. In 1963, Lyndon Johnson postponed the lighting of the tree until Dec. 22 in observance of the 30-day period of mourning for assassinated President John F. Kennedy.

In 1973, the traditional nativity scene present at previous ceremonies was discontinued due to a court decision banning the display on the basis of religious freedom. The decision was overturned by the US Supreme court, and the cr¸che was reinstated to the ceremony in 1984. In 1979 and 1980, the tree remained dark in honor of American hostages in Iran, except for 417 seconds in 1980 - one second for each day that the 52 American diplomats had been held captive. On Christmas Eve of 1985, President Bush directed that the lights on the tree be turned down momentarily in support of American hostages being held in Lebanon.

The ceremony has grown substantially over the years. It is now a three-week long event featuring nightly entertainment sponsored by the National Parks Service and the National Park Foundation. This year, the opening ceremony and tree lighting will be held Thursday, Dec. 6. Entertainment will be supplied by country singer Sara Evans, 14 year old opera singer Holly and Julian Ivey, the 12 year old star of Broadway's "The Lion King". The US Air Force Band will play, along with the St. Albans and National Cathedral Schools Choir.

Tickets to the National Tree Lighting Ceremony are long gone, but there are plenty of opportunities to join your community and celebrate the spirit of the season at these local Christmas tree lighting events.


Light Up the Season!
This free holiday event for the whole community will be held in downtown business locations from B St. and Foothill to Blvd. to Watkins Street and will culminate in a tree-lighting at city hall. For kids, there will be ginger-bread house decorating, face painting, story-telling and visits with Santa.

More than eighteen individuals and groups will perform at scheduled times throughout the evening at business locations within strolling distance of one another. Some familiar names include the award winning Mt. Eden High School Chamber Choir, the Hayward High Marching Band, the All Saints Bell Choir, and those whacky and fun Tap-Dancing Christmas Trees.

The two-hour plus evening event will be concentrated in the area of "B" Street between Foothill Boulevard and City Hall, and Main Street between "A" and "C" streets. The three blocks of "B" Street and two blocks of Main Street will be closed to auto traffic to make it easy for everyone to stroll from shop to shop, or zig-zag across the street to enjoy the sounds, lights and hospitality planned for the evening. This event is sponsored by the Hayward Chamber of Commerce.

Light Up the Season
Thursday, Nov 29
5:30 - 7:45 p.m.
Entertainment and Tree Lighting
Hayward City Hall Rotunda
B St., Watkins to Foothill, Hayward
(510) 583-4000


Festival of Lights Parade and Tree Lighting
There's nothing quite as charming as downtown Niles all dressed up for Christmas. The tree lighting will be held across from the flag pole at Niles Blvd and I Street. Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman will preside over the count-down and flip the switch. The parade will kick off at 6:30 sharp on Main Street in Niles. Bring a chair and enjoy the show!

Come early, parking will be limited. Handicapped parking will be available on J Street. Call (510) 792-8023 for more information.

Niles Festival of Lights Parade and Tree Lighting
Friday, Nov 23
4:30 p.m.
Holiday kickoff event
Niles Blvd., Niles
(510) 792-8023

Centerville Holiday Skating Rink, Festivities and Tree lighting
Centerville Business and Community Association invites you to kick off the holiday season at an outdoor holiday event featuring music, raffles, and a gingerbread house decorating station. Santa will visit on Sunday. Skating costs $6.50 for a half hour and includes a cup of hot chocolate. A portion of each ticket will benefit the Fremont Education Foundation. The gingerbread decorating station will be open from Noon - 4 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and costs $12 for one child, $20 for two children. It will feature all supplies necessary to create a delightful, original gingerbread house to take home. This event will be held rain or shine.

Holiday Skating and Festivities Schedule
Friday- Noon to 5 p.m.
Saturday, Noon to 9 p.m.
Sunday, Noon to 5 p.m., followed at 5:15 by the Annual Tree Lighting event
Centerville Train Depot Plaza
37260 Fremont Blvd., Fremont
(510) 978-1657

Mission San Jose Christmas tree lighting at the Old School
Refreshments will be served. Please bring a donation of canned goods for the Tri-City Volunteers Food Bank. Sponsored by the Mission San Jose Chamber of Commerce.

Mission San Jose Tree Lighting
Saturday, Dec 1
5 p.m.
Mission Blvd & Cedar Street, Across from Ohlone College
(510) 873-7701

Warm Springs District tree lighting and holiday fun.
Featured entertainment will include the Warm Springs Elementary Choir and the Warm Springs and Weibel Elementary School Bands, caroling by Irvington High School Choir, demonstrations by Choi's Martial Arts, and dance by Yoko's Dance & Performing Arts Academy. There will also be a face painting clown, food booths and pictures with Santa Claus. Please bring an unwrapped toy donation for Toys for Tots. Sponsored by the Warm Springs Business and Community Association and the Warm Springs Rotary Club

Warm Springs District Tree Lighting
Friday, Dec 7
5:30 - 8:30 p.m.
Tree lighting, photos with Santa and performances
Warm Springs Business Plaza
46500 Mission Blvd., Fremont
(510) 490-6823

Miracle on Bay Street Winter Wonderland Event
This annual event will feature a holiday skating rink and tree lighting, a performance by the Irvington High School Choir, a hula demonstration, crafts, and games. It is sponsored by the Irvington Business Associates.

Miracle on Bay Street Winter Wonderland Event
Saturday, Dec 8
11 am - 7 pm.
Irvington Business Association's Bay St., Fremont
From Five Corners to Trimboli
(510) 651-7395


20th Annual Tree Lighting and Holiday Open House and Concert
Santa will be there to pose for pictures, and his elves will be on hand to help serve refreshments.

Tree Lighting and Holiday Open House and Concert Saturday, Dec 1
Refreshments: 6:30 p.m.
Tree lighting: 7 p.m.
Entertainment: 7:15 p.m.
Milpitas Community Center
457 E. Calaveras Blvd., Milpitas
(408) 586-3210


City of Newark's 21st Annual Tree Lighting Program
This traditional program includes holiday caroling, refreshments, and a special performance from the Newark Memorial Cougar Chords. For more information call the Recreation and Community Services Department at (510) 742-4437.

Tree Lighting Program
Monday, Dec 3
6:30 - 7 p.m.
Caroling, refreshments, and performance by Newark Memorial Cougar Chords
Newark Civic Center, Carl Pierce Memorial Tree
37101, Newark Blvd., Newark
(510) 742-4437

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