Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Sept. 21, 2021

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Christmas tree lights up the night

Excited kids cheer as Santa launches holiday season, Festival of Trees

By , Columbian environment and transportation reporter
Published:
2 Photos
Thousands turn out to attend the annual Christmas tree lighting event at Esther Short Park on Friday night. The event kicks off the Vancouver Rotary Foundation's Festival of Trees, the group's primary fundraising event for its scholarship programs.
Thousands turn out to attend the annual Christmas tree lighting event at Esther Short Park on Friday night. The event kicks off the Vancouver Rotary Foundation's Festival of Trees, the group's primary fundraising event for its scholarship programs. (Natalie Behring/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

After last year’s bitter cold and rain, revelers returned in force for this year’s Christmas tree lighting festivities at Esther Short Park on Friday night, with a couple thousand showing up to kick off the season and the Vancouver Rotary Foundation’s Festival of Trees.

Middle school and high school choristers sang carols as people milled around, posed for family photos and grabbed food waiting for Santa to arrive.

The festival, now in its 20th year, runs through the weekend with concerts, singing and other performances, plus a raffle, with all the proceeds from tickets and sponsorship going to the organization’s scholarship programs.

Rotary awarded $79,000 in scholarships in 2015, according to the group’s website.

Friday night was Dave and Leslie McCarthy’s first visit to the tree lighting, and they came with their grandchildren.

They’ve been in Vancouver for about a year and half but still showed up a bit late, Leslie said.

“But we made the tree lighting; that was the important part,” Dave said. “We all cheered and clapped. And we saw Santa Claus.”

Cody and Christine Anderson — with their children Sydney, 4, and Joel, 2 — were in Vancouver from Montana, visiting for Thanksgiving, and stopped at the tree lighting.

Sydney’s old enough to get excited for Christmas, Cody said, and she loves it.

“Joel gets excited ’cause Sydney’s excited,” Christine said.

Mia Isse and Jaden Torson, students at the Journey Theater Arts Group, were dressed as elves and handed out candy canes to children — and, when the time came, they helped introduce Santa Claus.

“It’s interesting, and cold,” Mia said.

“We’re elves, so you know this is actually pretty good weather for us,” Jaden said.

When the big man appeared to switch on the tree’s lights, the kids went nuts.

That’s the best part, said organizer and Rotary member George Francisco.

“You know what I think I like more than anything, is when Santa gets here, and the joy on the kids’ faces,” he said.

Francisco, with Jim David, organized the tree lighting, and had been out at the park since 9 a.m. getting things ready.

Crews in cherry pickers spent a good part of Wednesday hanging 16,000 lights on the 100-foot-tall Douglas fir at the park that serves as the event’s centerpiece and Vancouver’s community Christmas tree.

Francisco estimated about 3,000 people showed up Friday night, compared to last year’s 1,500 or so.

The festival is Rotary’s primary fundraising event, he said, and the money goes to scholarships for local students in high school, college or trade schools.

If You Go

• What: Vancouver Rotary Foundation’s Festival of Trees, featuring festival tree-viewing, visits with Santa, family scavenger hunt, model train display, entertainment, music, holiday market.

When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

• Special events: “Hello Vancouver!” talk show at 5 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Hilton Vancouver Washington, 301 W. Sixth St.

Cost: Suggested donation $5 per family; tree raffle tickets are $5 each.

• Schedule of events: http://rotaryfestivaloftrees.org

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Columbian environment and transportation reporter
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