CARBONDALE — Carbondale ushered in the holiday season a few days early this year with its first-ever community tree lighting ceremony.
The 10-foot Fraser fir was illuminated at 5 p.m. Monday evening in front of City Hall before an audience of community members and city employees.
“This is a new tradition for us, and it will become an annual tradition on the Monday before the Lights Fantastic Parade,” Mayor John “Mike” Henry said in his introductory remarks.
He reminded the crowd of Giving Tuesday, an annual event that supports participating nonprofit organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, Attucks Community Services, Carbondale Main Street, Good Samaritan Ministries, The Women’s Center, Carbondale Community Arts, I Can Read! and WDBX Community Radio.
“Give to your favorite charity tomorrow, or your favorite civic organization. They do much-needed and very good work for us here in the city of Carbondale. Also, I want to encourage everybody, as you keep hearing, to shop local. The city needs the revenue,” he said.
A group of about 30 children from Kids Korner, the Carbondale Park District’s child care center, led a countdown before the lights were turned on.
“We always try to include the kids in all the activities — we want them to really feel as much a part of the community as the adults do, and it’s the holidays,” said Kathy Renfro, executive director of the Park District. “So the magic of the kids and the excitement that they bring, you could see from today just how enormously pleased they were to be introduced to the mayor. I think we’re really growing some fine citizens here in Carbondale, and the more we can include them, I think the more we’ll hear their voices.”
The tree will light up at 5 p.m. each night throughout the holiday season. It was donated to the city by George Sheffer of Murdale True Value.
“This is our community. This is where we live, work and play. These are my neighbors. These are people we care about, OK. I love this town. I love Southern Illinois. Why wouldn’t you?” Sheffer said. “… I think the greatest part of any holiday is the giving. When you give, you don’t expect it, but you get so much more back.”
City Manager Gary Williams said city staff decided to incorporate the tree lighting ceremony into its holiday festivities as a way to bring more people to downtown and to celebrate the Lights Fantastic Parade, which begins at 6 p.m. this Saturday.
“It’s just about trying to improve our tradition,” said City Manager Gary Williams.
Henry expressed disappointment that he will be out of town during the parade this year, but said he was glad to see so many people out for the tree lighting ceremony.
“It brings folks together,” Henry said. “I think it’s a lot of these sort of little things, everyday things, that will help bring Carbondale back, attract folks to stay in Carbondale, retire here, hopefully, get some young families to stay here and graduates from SIU to stay here. You just have to keep doing things on a lot of fronts to make it a hometown.”