Long forgotten during the ceremony were the petty Facebook arguments and small-town bickering that sometimes shows its face; instead, old acquaintances were rekindled, and the merry sounds of children singing filled the air as they awaited the arrival of Santa.
In weather that almost required a jacket, the tree was lit by a large group of children who practically mobbed Mayor Sam Henderson with their eagerness. At first attempt, the mayor had only a dozen or so children help to light the tree. After that failed, Henderson recognized there were not enough children to flip the switch. He invited every child to join him, and at last, the tree was lit on the second attempt.
The enormous Christmas tree – actually an enormous bush that lives year-round in Clymer Park and is carefully and skillfully pruned into a Christmas tree – was lit up with countless colored lights and topped with a star that could be seen nearly two blocks away.
Holiday carols were sung by Gulfport’s own Tot Time program that featured the twos and threes singing the songs of Christmas. The slightly older Childhood School Program, led by Nicole Latragna, followed with “Walkin’ in a Florida Wonderland.”
Former Gulfport Mayors Yvonne Johnson led the crowd in more caroling while the anticipation grew for the arrival of Santa Claus.
“I’ve been doing this since 1972, and have had only one rain out,” Johnson said after her first rendition of “Here Comes Santa Claus.” “How’s that for some Florida weather? Santa got lost that night, and we sang for 30 minutes.”
Santa didn’t get lost this time, and arrived almost on cue during the second round of “Here Comes Santa Claus” in a sleek new fire truck, driven by some of Gulfport’s finest.
Santa took his seat on his throne on the stage and posed for pictures with the children, reminding them that he will be back on December 25.