When Maj. Gen. Pete Johnson, Fort Jackson commander, with an assist by children from the installation's Child, Youth Services, flipped the switch Dec. 1 during the Winter Wonderland Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony it not only turned on the lights for the post's Christmas tree it signaled the beginning of the holiday season.

Patriot Park outside of the Solomon Center was transformed into a "winter wonderland" with games, food, hot chocolate, holiday music from the 282nd Army Band, and it was even snowing on a small patch of Fort Jackson.

Capt. Matt Eller, a student at the Adjutant General School on post, his wife Rebecca and their daughter Isabella, were a few of the hundreds enjoying the tree lighting festivities.

"It's really nice and good that the base is hosting a holiday event where we can celebrate with a large group," he said.

Three-year-old Isabella was "enjoying" creating holiday artwork and all the other fun things at the event, Rebecca said.

When it came time to flip the switch on the tree lights, Johnson joked about the tree's size.

"We are proud of our tree," Johnson said. Even though the post tree was a little smaller than last year, it will "make Charlie Brown proud."

There is snow and good food and games, but "behold, our Fort Jackson Christmas tree," he added. "Remember it's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog."

The tree was planted a few months ago and if someone "comes back in a few decades it will be that magnificent specification of what we want in our Christmas tree," he said.

While Johnson started out lighthearted in his comments, he became more serious when speaking about what the season means to the Army beginning in Valley Forge up until today.

"Today many of our teammates in uniform and our Department of Defense civilians are forward deployed right now guaranteeing our pursuit of happiness," he said. "As you pursue happiness this holiday season don't forget that there are always those less fortunate and this is absolutely a season of giving."

Before Santa Claus arrived on the back of a Fort Jackson fire truck and was swamped by children, Sgt. Brian Bohannon, a vocalist with the 282nd sang, "Must have been ol' Santa Claus" and the Children's Choir from the School Age Services Program of CYS sang a few holiday classics.

Fort Jackson's holiday season began with the tree lighting and will continue with two holiday concerts by the 282nd Army Band one Friday in Sumter, South Carolina and Dec. 14 at the Koger Center in Columbia and culminate in drill sergeants and trainees heading home on Victory Block Leave.