Hundreds of people are expected at an event Thursday night which helps kick off the yuletide season in Mount Airy each year: the lighting of the official city Christmas tree.
Holiday music by two local groups, a special appearance by Santa Claus to meet and give treats to kids and free hot chocolate will be part of the 17th-annual gathering that begins at 6 p.m.
It will be held on the grounds just outside the Municipal Building at 300 S. Main St., sponsored by the Mount Airy Appearance Commission.
During the occasion each Christmas, a white ash there which passersby might not notice the rest of the year becomes suddenly illuminated as a bright symbol of the holiday season.
This is done with the aid of a countdown from the crowd and an honorary “switch flipper,” which this year will be Betty Wright.
Music To Set Mood
People who have attended the tree-lighting program in past years say they appreciate the opportunity for the community to assemble and share the warmth of the season, punctuated by the sounds of holiday music filling the cool night air.
Five minutes before the scheduled 6 p.m. start time, the bells will ring at the nearby First Presbyterian Church to set the mood for the program.
As the crowd arrives, the Grace Moravian Church Band, directed by Hubert McMillian, will display its instrumental talents in the form of various holiday selections.
During the program, more holiday sounds are to be provided by a local chorale group, the Gentry Patriot Small Ensemble of Gentry Middle School, led by Susan Gentry, longtime music teacher in the Surry County school system.
The Gentry group is expected to perform various Christmas numbers for about 15 minutes.
Kelly Epperson will continue an ongoing role as master of ceremonies for the event. A Mount Airy commissioner, Steve Yokeley, is slated to offer special remarks through his additional role as mayor pro tem in representing the city government at the program.
It also will include a prayer by Bill Rountree, the chairman of the Appearance Commission.
As it does for each tree lighting, the Beacons group of the Presbyterian church will give away hot chocolate.
Michella Huff, who works closely with the Appearance Commission through her role as city landscape supervisor, said it is difficult to gauge the attendance for the annual tree lighting, which seems to grow every year.
However, Huff said one gauge involves the cups of hot chocolate given out, which last year totaled 300.
Wright To Light Tree
Huff, who said plans for Thursday’s event have been in the works by the Appearance Commission since the summer, is excited about the person selected this year to pull the electrical switch to light the tree, Betty Wright.
Wright has played a lead role in local historic-preservation projects, including serving as president of the Mount Airy Restoration Foundation for nearly 20 years.
That service led recently to Wright being honored by having a portrait of her placed in the parlor of the antebellum William Alfred Moore House on Moore Avenue. This recognized the role she has played in perpetuating the house that is a hallmark of local preservation efforts.
Wright also chaired a 100th-anniversary observance of Haymore Memorial Baptist Church earlier this year. She additionally has been involved in other community functions, including her association with Mountain View Garden Club for about 50 years and as an active member of the Eastern Star group.
Huff added Tuesday that Wright worked closely with the late Susan Ashby on preservation projects. Ashby is credited with launching the tree-lighting ceremony in the mid-1990s, due to a desire to have what she considered a special tree become a focal point of the Christmas season each year.
Santa To Greet Kids
The climax of Mount Airy’s tree lighting is always the visit by Santa Claus, who will sit near the tree to meet kids and give each a bag of candy. A long line of parents and excited children usually is there to greet him.
Santa tends to make his appearance each year in an elaborate or dramatic fashion, which in 2011 included his arrival in the bucket of the ladder truck that the Mount Airy Fire Department recently had acquired.
This year, Santa will be brought to the site in a city police car.
The 2012 tree lighting is coming a week earlier than normal, due to a scheduling conflict involving Santa. That change will allow Santa more time to visit with children Thursday night.
Huff said Thursday’s event should be blessed by good weather, based on the forecast, and invites everyone to attend.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.