Tree lighting ceremony kicks off holiday season
December 17, 2012
Although the temperature dropped and rain started to fall, Friday's weather didn't stop the illumination of more than 4,200 multicolored LED lights brightening the branches of a 40-foot-tall artificial tree towering over McGlachlin Parade Field.
"Think a little rain is going to stop Santa from coming? Is a little rain going to stop the tree from being lit?" Garrison Commander Col. Edward C. Rothstein shouted to the crowd, who responded with a resounding "No."
"That's the spirit," Rothstein shot back.
More than 600 people attended the post's annual Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony at the gazebo, which was covered in white lights and garland.
Hosted by Fort Meade's Religious Support Office, the 30-minute event also featured caroling, raffles, refreshments and a visit from Santa. The USO supplied hot chocolate.
Garrison chaplain secretary Lynn Durner, who organized the event, said the ceremony has grown each year. This was the second year that the ceremony was held on the parade field.
With the gazebo illuminated to match the large tree, the event also was the most decorated.
"We wanted it to be a lot nicer for the families," Durner said. "I just went ahead and dreamt something up. It's like a little story book."
In addition, a huge electric menorah placed on the other side of the gazebo will be lit throughout the week of Hanukkah, which ends Sunday.
Chaplain (Maj.) Mark Jacobs, Family Life chaplain, said preparations for the tree lighting is a team effort that includes support from all congregations on post. The ceremony, he said, is a fitting way to lead Fort Meade into the holiday season.
"It's kind of like the last hoorah before we go into the busyness of the holiday season," he said.
The festive ceremony began with the U.S. Army Field Band Brass Quartet joining Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts from the installation to lead the crowd in carols. Following "Jingle Bells" and "Frosty the Snowman," the band played "Silent Night" as the attendees lit candles and sang along.
"It brings about a moment of a little more quiet contemplation as you're singing the song and there's candlelight," Jacobs said. "It brings about a different atmosphere that I enjoy."
After the caroling, Rothstein thanked the crowd for attending the ceremony and for a "wonderful year." He also asked for everyone to take a moment to remember the service members who will not be home for the holidays.
"As we take the opportunity with our family and friends, we should always remember those who are still in harm's way, those that are away from us," he said. "Take a moment and think of those loved ones, friends and families who are not with us today. Then have the opportunity to be with your family and friends, and embrace each other because that's what they'd want us to do."
With the help of children from the crowd, Rothstein flicked the switch that lit the tree.
"I think it's really pretty," said 9-year-old Gracie Balkuvvar-Smith, daughter of Air Force Master Sgt. Sevin Balkuvvar-Smith. "When I was walking up, I thought it was really decorated."
After thoroughly inspecting the tree and spotting a few lights that didn't go on, 4-year-old Aiden Parker said that the shining star on top was his favorite part.
Once the tree was lit, youngsters darted to the edge of English Avenue where Santa arrived atop a fire truck. To the sound of cheering, Santa climbed off the truck and made his way to the gazebo, where he met with a long line of children.
"That was cool," Gracie said of Santa's entrance.
Following the lighting, hot chocolate, cookies and other holiday snacks were served.
Several attendees said they were grateful for the event.
"It's been fun," said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Matt Parker of Navy Information Operations Command Maryland. "The kids are having a blast, that's the main thing."
Balkuvvar-Smith of the 707th Force Support Squadron agreed.
"Its really nice of them to put this together for us," she said. "It brings out the holiday spirit."