JACKSONVILLE — Downtown Jacksonville was awash in a festive glow on Tuesday night at the city’s lighting ceremony.
“This is more or less to open up the Christmas season here in Jacksonville,” said City Councilwoman Sandra Sudduth.
The city has been lighting downtown to ring in the Christmas season for around 15 years, according to Sudduth. She said the event started with a small group of participants and the number of decorations and community organizations has increased each year. She said the street and parks and recreation departments are instrumental to the event’s success.
The Kitty Stone Elementary band and choir were on scene to bring the sounds of Christmas joy to shivering onlookers. The Jacksonville Community Band was also there to kick off the event with several Christmas classics.
Cpl. Jeremy Penny of the Jacksonville Police Department was in attendance as an officer and a father of a choir member. He says police officers usually come to these events to work, while also enjoying the community spirit.
“This is actually the first Christmas tree lighting ceremony I’ve ever worked or been to,” he said. “I try to view these events as a public relations opportunity. We try to be involved in the community and be seen.”
Rev. Velma Thomas of St. Paul Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Jacksonville was also on hand for her first lighting ceremony in the city.
“We have so much stuff that’s been going on,” she said. “Christmas is about love; that’s the bottom line. It’s about loving each other no matter what denomination, no matter what color or where we come from. The lighting of the tree shows the unity of the community.”
Mayor Johnny Smith and Jacksonville State University President John Beehler led the crowd in the countdown to light the trees on the square.
“It kinda livens everybody up a little bit,” said Smith. “It’s been a tough year with the tornado, so this is an exciting event.”
Smith was also complimentary of Sudduth’s efforts in organizing this event. Her lighting committee always does a great job putting on a show, according to the mayor.
“We just love the community to come together,” she said. “We are celebrating the birth of Jesus; that is the reason for the season. It’s also a time for fellowship and a time for us to be able to work and get to know each other.”