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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘People want community, and this is that’: Emerson-Garfield neighbors organize first Christmas tree lighting in Corbin Park

Hundreds of neighbors braved the freezing temperature Sunday to watch an enormous tree in Corbin Park light up with multicolored bulbs as they drank hot chocolate and reveled in community spirit.  (Elena Perry/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

For the first year of what Emerson-Garfield residents hope will be many, a three-story evergreen in Corbin Park lit up Sunday with multicolored bulbs.

Hundreds of neighbors gathered to witness the spectacle, organized by resident Katie Joy Newhouse and the neighborhood council. Hot chocolate flowed, classic holiday songs filled the air and Christmas celebrities Santa and Mrs. Claus made an appearance.

Newhouse, who moved to Spokane in October 2022, said the event was meant to encourage connection between neighbors.

“We can’t love our neighbors if we don’t know them,” Newhouse said. “I think the best way to fight all the mis- and disinformation that’s out there is if we keep talking to our neighbors and keep meeting them and getting to know them and getting involved in our community.”

Neighbors past and present came to the event, laughing with each other, gloved hands gripping paper cups of hot chocolate.

“We just like to support our community,” said Emerson-Garfield resident Dawnitta Shell. She said she hoped to reconnect with some past high school friends she heard were coming to the park.

She and her husband, Scott Shell, brought Jazmine Walrath, 8, to the tree lighting. Walrath brought a stuffed dragon she zipped up into her coat to stay warm.

“All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth,” Jazmine sang through a gummy smile, though she also asked Santa for some Squishmallows to add to her growing collection of three.

Huxley DeJaegher, 6, is hoping to find a kindergartner-sized candy cane under her tree on Christmas morning.

“It’s gonna be a sweet one, an eating one,” she said, her nose pink from the chill and tongue blue from the (regular-sized) candy cane she was eating. She plans to parcel the big one out, limiting consumption to 10 minutes a day so the monster candy will last her 165 days.

Dani DeJaegher, vice chair on the neighborhood council and mom to Huxley, said the event demonstrated her neighbors’ desire for community and closeness.

“Having another reason to bring people together and to celebrate and be proud of their neighborhood and say hello on a cold fall day is something I was excited to bring together,” DeJaegher said.

The crowd cheered and counted down to the tree’s illumination. Unimpressed, 14-month-old Joshua Lane gazed at the colors through layers of his winter coat, a blanket and the arms of his dad, Alexian Lane.

“It’s great,” said Hannah Lane, Joshua’s mom. “What people want is community, and this is that.”

The multicolored bulbs will adorn the towering conifer in Corbin Park until the new year.

Already plotting for next year’s spectacular, Newhouse said she wants to offer horse-drawn carriage rides around the oval-shaped park, which was once a horse race track. In dreaming bigger, she’s encouraged by her neighbors who came to the event and helped to make it happen, as well as sponsorships from local businesses and organizations that donated to make her vision a reality.

“This community cares,” Newhouse said through a handful of mini marshmallows. “People step up and help each other in such a beautiful way.”