After a two-year hiatus, Vancouver residents can crowd around Esther Short Park’s grand holiday tree and see Santa Claus light its multicolored lights.
The Rotary Community Tree Lighting celebrations will kick off at 4 p.m. Friday, where attendees can listen to festive music, go on carriage rides and, of course, greet Santa Claus and his elves as he visits Propstra Square. Once lit, strung lights will remain on for 24 hours a day from late November to Jan. 1.
The Chinook Elementary School Chorus will perform at 4:30 p.m. followed by singer COOLEY at 5:15 p.m. Then, Santa will arrive at 6 p.m. to illuminate the holiday tree’s 15,000 lights. Unlike previous in-person lighting ceremonies, there will not be a holiday market.
Terry Phillips, who has portrayed Santa for 20 years, said he’s thrilled to see children’s eyes light up as he pulls up to Propstra Square in a red fire truck with its sirens on — fitting for a man in the red suit. He’s already preparing for the multiple handshakes and high-fives he’ll dish out throughout the evening.
“The little ones are so excited,” he said with a chuckle. “As long as I don’t fall getting out of the truck, we’ll be good.”
Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle will also provide remarks during the event and join Santa in lighting the tree. She mentioned the tree’s resilience through the years, as it has been susceptible to losing branches and getting pestered by squirrels. At one point, the tree was even called Vancouver’s “Charlie Brown Tree.”
The annual tree lighting evolved from the Vancouver Rotary Festival of Trees, a gala that featured ornately decorated trees for sale. As the event gained more popularity year after year, the Rotary Club introduced a variety of activities, which included an Esther Short tree lighting in 2002, said club member Karey Schoenfeld.
The Festival of Trees eventually ran its course, but the lighting ceremony remained.
Even when the threats posed by the pandemic required people to stay away from crowds, the club continued to light the tree — although without its beloved activities. The Rotary Club is hoping to rebuild the tree-lighting ceremony to what it was like before the pandemic, which at one point had around 5,000 attendees, said club member Adam Roselli.
“The Rotary Club of Vancouver is pleased to provide this special opportunity for all to enjoy this longtime community event,” wrote club President Michael Bomar. “We encourage everyone to come down to Esther Short Park to experience this cherished community event to herald in the holiday.”
Vancouver’s tree lighting is sponsored by multiple community partners including Waste Connections, Toyota, Rotary Club of Vancouver and the city of Vancouver. Clark Public Utilities employee volunteers contributed to the park’s glow-up by hanging wreaths and LED lights on smaller trees.
For more information, visit www.rotarytreelighting.org.