RIVER HEIGHTS — More than 20 years ago, a 10-foot pine tree was planted in the city’s central Ryan’s Place Park. It was strung with lights and illuminated during River Heights’ first annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
The tree, now nearly 40 feet tall, was adorned with 540 red lights this year, city council member Geoff Smith said. It was lit up again on Monday night while a crowd of children and families huddled around it and sang carols, just like residents have done on the first Monday after Thanksgiving every year since the tree was planted.
The tradition has become a cherished part of the holiday season for many River Heights residents.
“It’s a picking up of the Christmas holiday season,” said Smith, who organized this year’s event. “It’s just a fun time to get out and rub shoulders with the neighbors.”
After singing around the newly lit tree, the crowd made its way to the park pavilion to celebrate the start of the holiday season with hot chocolate, donuts and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Melinda Lundberg, who’s lived in River Heights for about 20 years, has taken her family to the tree lighting for as long as she can remember. She said it’s become part of her family’s Christmas tradition.
“It’s fun to be here with the community,” Lundberg said. “It’s fun to see Santa in this setting because the kids are with their friends. The hot chocolate, the donuts and the singing: It’s fun memories.”
Lundberg said the tradition was the same this year as it was the first time she went, but the lights have been updated. She said they look “very professional.”
“I really like what they’ve done with the tree,” she said. “It looks really nice. I love driving by throughout the rest of the month.”
Smith says the tree is one of the first trees lit up in the community during the holiday season.
Monday’s weather was below freezing and the ground was blanketed by a recent snowfall, and families took turns warming themselves around a fire.
“It’s kind of a fun way to get out of the house when it’s cold,” Smith said. “It’s always fun to sing outside in the winter.”
The tree lighting is often the first time Lundberg’s children get to visit Santa during the holiday season, she said, so it gets her family ready for the holidays.
“It kicks off the season,” she said. “It’s really fun because it gets them excited and gets me excited too.”
This year’s crowd of about 75 people was smaller than usual this year, City Recorder Sheila Lind said. She said it was likely because this year’s event was advertised less than in other years.