FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Of all the holiday icons, one of the most recognizable is the Christmas tree, and Fort Rucker rang in the season by lighting up one of the biggest trees around.

The installation officially kicked off the holiday season with its Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Howze Field Nov. 30, where hundreds came together to get in the holiday spirit with a warm cup of hot chocolate, a bit of caroling and a whole lot of Christmas cheer.

The Maneuver Center of Excellence Fort Rucker Detachment Band set the tone with sounds of the holidays before Col. Brian E. Walsh, Fort Rucker garrison commander, welcomed guests from all over the Wiregrass to kick off the celebration.

"The lights are hung, the tree is trimmed, Christmas lists have been painstakingly written and the cookie baking has commenced," said the garrison commander during the ceremony. "You can just sense that the children's eager anticipation and excitement are in the air. With that said, Christmas is the perfect time of the year to reflect on our blessings, gather with friends and family, and celebrate the Christmas spirit.

"We have so much to be thankful for -- our freedom and those who have served to protect our freedom, good health, family, friends and the privilege to wear the U.S. Army uniform and the insignia of this Branch," he continued. "We're also thankful and remember our service members whose duties have called them elsewhere, so in addition to being thankful tonight, let us remember to give this holiday season."

Walsh suggested that people give in simple ways, such as a smile, opening a door for someone, paying a compliment, lending a hand to someone in need or offering an ear to someone who needs to talk.

"Reach out and lend a helping hand to those who are less fortunate -- that's, in part, what Christmas is about," he said.

Following the garrison commander's remarks, the winners of the Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation ornament contest were announced, with the winners getting the honor of flipping the switch to light the tree.

The winners of this year's ornament contest were: James Wathen, 3-5 year-old winner; Leah Meadows, 6-8 year-old winner; and William Jensen, 9-11 year-old winner.

Following the lighting of the tree, a special guest from the North Pole made a visit to greet children and family members to help finalize their Christmas lists.

For Keegan Bolton, civilian from Daleville, the ceremony is a great way for him and his family to kick off the holiday season in the only way he knows how -- supporting his community.

"I like to come out each year to support Fort Rucker, especially during this time of year," he said. "I know that there are lots of families here who don't have their Soldiers with them, so to be able to show them that they're part of a community that cares is huge. I want to be able to support them the way that they support us."

For Haley Wild, military spouse, the tree lighting was an opportunity for her and her family to recapture the Christmas spirit that they miss from the white winters they've been accustomed to in the past.

"It's so nice to see that the post puts on events like this to really make it feel like Christmas is coming around, because here in the South, it doesn't really feel like Christmas," she said. "We're from the North and we get 12 inches to a couple feet of snow, sometimes, so it's a huge difference coming down here. It feels like you have to try extra hard to make it feel like Christmas, and I can see that's what they're doing here.

"They want to make sure their community and families are being taken care of and thought of, and I feel like they've done that," she continued. "My kids are enjoying it, and if they're happy, then I'm happy."