After nearly a month of dark, rainy weather, the skies above Spokane became crystal clear late Saturday afternoon – a perfect backdrop for lighting the city’s Christmas tree.
The open skies meant unusually cold temperatures, prompting many in the crowd to light their free candles long before “O Christmas Tree” was sung or the tree’s light switch was actually flipped on. Also helping to warm the tree watchers were gospel singers, an American Indian drum circle and a brass quartet.
During a pause in the opening act, a little girl sitting atop her dad’s shoulders in the crowd belted out: “I see Santa!”
When the S-word was mentioned, other kids in the crowd began to shout, “Where? Where?”
The bearded man in the frumpy red suit made his way through the crowd and up onto the stage, prompting many high-pitched squeals and cheers.
But even with Santa in the spotlight, it still wasn’t time to light the tree. Candles were burning to their stubs. Glasses of free hot cider had been drained. The dark silhouette of the 50-foot fir tree towered above the stage. A crescent moon hovered in the sky behind the tree, above downtown’s brick and concrete skyline.
Standing on the stage near Santa was Mayor Dennis Hession. Although decorated evergreens have long been used to mark the day when Christians believe Jesus Christ was born, Hession also reminded lighting ceremony attendees of the season’s other big birthday – the City of Spokane will celebrate its 125th anniversary this week.
“This is really our chance to honor the past,” Hession said.
The official birthday celebration is Wednesday, beginning at 4:30 p.m. and lasting three hours at the Spokane Convention Center.
When the announcements and thank-you’s had been read, the tree was lit. Flashbulbs and fireworks added to the spectacle of thousands of tiny white lights hanging from the tree’s limbs.
Spokane resident Terry Powell stood off to the side watching the scene with his two, wide-eyed young sons. “It’s nice, real nice,” he said, taking in the scene. “Now we just need a little snow.”