HAMLET — As the sun was setting Monday evening, people began to gather at Hamlet City Park to welcome in the holiday season with the lighting of the Christmas tree.
The crowd filled the bleachers quickly while others gathered around the park, awaiting the beginning of the program. Students from Fairview Heights Elementary School went through some final warm-ups as teachers lined them up for their performance.
City Councilman Johnathan Buie chatted with Pastor Allison Farrah of First Baptist Church and Shirley McDuffie, who had the honor of the official tree-lighting. Buie’s suit was unique and colorful, white snowflakes and reindeer with red bands on a royal blue background. He also wore a necklace of twinkling lights and a green and red cap with elf ears.
Hamlet City Manager Jonathan Blanton welcomed the crowd to the 32nd annual Christmas Tree Lighting. He also informed them of upcoming events in Hamlet in December — the Christmas Parade on Dec. 6, Christmas on Main on Dec. 8, and Old Fashioned Christmas on Dec. 14. Mayor Bill Bayless then welcomed those in attendance and introduced Farrah, who delivered the invocation.
Bubba Kirkley, of the Summit Church Praise Team, introduced his musical group, that performed “Joy to the World” and “Mary, Did You Know?”
Pastor Steve Crews, of the Church of God of Prophecy of Hamlet, read from the Bible about the birth of Jesus Christ from the book of Luke, as a small group from Outreach for Jesus dressed as Mary holding the baby Jesus, Joseph, and the Three Wise Men reenacted the Christmas story.
Crews also shared the history of the Christmas tree, which originated with Martin Luther in the early 1500s. Luther brought a tree indoors and decorated it with candles to symbolize the twinkling stars of the sky he saw walking home one wintry evening. The red apples symbolized the blood of Jesus, as did the holly. A star was placed at the top of the tree to help guide the Wise Men, and angels have also been used as decorative tree tops. Crews closed by reminding the crowd that “Jesus is the reason for the season!”
Melanie Cole, music specialist of Fairview Heights, then brought out the chorus, who gleefully sang “Deck the Halls,” “Up on the Housetop,” “Jingle Bells,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and closed with “Why Don’t Reindeers Fly?” The singers received a loud round of applause as they finished their last song.
McDuffie approached the podium and, with the assistance of her great-grandson, counted down to the actual lighting of the Christmas tree. Shouts and cheers went up from many as the beautiful white lights appeared on the tall tree.
The Rev. Tommy LeGrand, pastor of Prayer and Faith Temple Church of God in Christ, gave the benediction as the program came to a close. Hot chocolate and cookies were offered to the many in attendance, ending a chilly evening as the Christmas season officially opened in Hamlet.