Capped by the 10-count and a loud cheer, the 37-foot blue spruce in Public Square, wrapped in strings of lights, decorated with dozens of ornaments made by students of the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts and, of course, topped with the bright star overlooking the downtown, lit up the faces of many standing nearby.
People around the tree took photos on their cellphones while others with excitable children stopped to capture a memory at the base of the evergreen.
“This is a great event for the City of Hagerstown,” Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said. “The tree lighting brings a lot of people downtown. It’s just a good time and everybody gets to see Santa Claus.”
Bruchey flipped the switch to light the tree with the help of North Hagerstown High School students Jonathan Shipley and Matt Ritter. The students were there to represent their classmate and football teammate, Aaron Miller, who was diagnosed with leukemia earlier this year.
“Aaron is one of my closest friends and it was an honor to do that for him and his family,” said Ritter, a junior at North High.
The smells of hot chocolate and popcorn, which were provided free to guests, wafted over a chilly Public Square that was buzzing with excitement prior to the tree lighting.
Ed Barrick of Hagerstown carried his grandson, 3-year-old Dylan Campbell, as they took in the evening. Joined by his wife and daughter, Barrick said it was the second time he’s attended the city’s tree lighting with his family.
“We come down and listen to the music, see everybody smiling and laughing,” he said.
A new part of this year’s event, the Downtown Alliance hosted a Holiday Faire Off The Square with several vendors on the square.
Anderson Photographs provided free 5-by-7-inch photos with Santa for families, who lined up down South Potomac Street during the two-hour event.
Melanie Anderson, owner of the shop, said more than 100 photos were given out, as well as some free refreshments to help keep everybody warm. She said the business has been participating in the city’s tree lighting for the past few years as a way to help give back in the community.
Anderson said she’s started to recognize some of the youngsters who come each year.
“Some of the kids, the first thing that they do when they come up to Santa is give him a big hug, and that’s really sweet,” she said. “Everybody’s so appreciative — lots of thank yous, lots of love and it’s just a good thing.”
Just minutes after illuminating the tree, a group of singers from Girls Inc. serenaded onlookers with Christmas carols. Earlier, brass quintets from North Hagerstown and South Hagerstown high schools got the evening going with festive tunes.
After the tree lighting, many made the short walk to The Maryland Theatre to continue the evening at the 23rd annual Hollyfest performance at 7 p.m., featuring entertainment and performances by numerous area students.
Students of all ages took to the stage to showcase their talents, singing, dancing and playing holiday classics before a packed house inside the theater.
City Community Affairs Manager Karen Giffin said about 1,300 people were expected to attend the annual Hollyfest show, which also included special appearances by Santa, Dean of Magic and Miss Maryland Joanna Guy. Local radio and TV personality Lou Scally served as the master of ceremonies for both events.
“This is really the kickoff to our holiday season in City Center,” Giffin said. “We get so excited about this. We love to decorate the city. We love all the families around enjoying themselves right in the middle of the square.”
Along with the city, The Columbia Bank — Hagerstown Trust Division and Antietam Cable/Disney Jr. sponsored this year’s Hollyfest, which began as a downtown Christmas parade before it became an indoor event several years ago. Volvo Powertrain sponsored the tree lighting.
Furthering the city’s holiday cheer, a tree lighting is also slated to take place at City Park on Friday, Nov. 30, at 7 p.m., Giffin said.