Hundreds gathered at the Columbia, South Carolina, Statehouse Nov. 24 to watch as the state Christmas tree was lit by Governor Henry McMaster and his wife Peggy McMaster. This year marks the 53rd year the Statehouse has hosted the Governor's Carolighting event to officially usher in the holiday season - an event routinely joined by Fort Jackson leaders and personnel.
"I'm so overjoyed and excited to be your host here on this beautiful night in Columbia for this special event," said Morgan Nichols, Miss South Carolina 2019 and master of ceremonies. "A time honored tradition to kick off our holiday season in South Carolina."
Fort Jackson's 282nd Army Band started the televised event by playing traditional carol music on the steps of the Statehouse.
"To be able to stand on the steps and do something like this right before the holidays is neat," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 George T. Bauer, Army Training Center Band Master and commander of the 282nd Army Band. "This is my third and final year and it was fun."
Bauer has three years of Carolighting experience under his belt. Set to retire in the next year, Bauer worked with the band members to bring the best possible show this year to represent Fort Jackson and the band.
"This is my first time doing this," said Staff Sgt. Ronald Mullins, operations non-commissioned officer and French-horn player. "It was a blast. I didn't know what to expect, but (the Carolighting) exceeded my expectations."
Mullins and the rest of his band mates played several songs throughout the event along with several choir and a capella groups, bands and hand bell team to set the musical ambiance during the lighting of the tree.
Children and adults danced and sang along to the carols as they were played. Even furry family members were invited to take part in the festivities. One young husky dog even joined in on a round of "Deck the Halls," leaving those nearest with a smile and chuckle.
Hot cocoa and coffee were served to attendees to help stave off the evening chill as early arrivers hunted down choice places around the State House's front lawn to set up chairs and blankets to relax and enjoy the show with their families. Some even dressed for the occasion by wearing their ugliest sweaters, reindeer antlers and Santa hats.
Attendees waited in anticipation as Gov. McMaster and his wife Peggy approached the podium to light the tree.
"The talent that you see up here is one example of the great talent and great future we have for our state," McMaster said. "Merry Christmas."
The McMasters and Nichols led a countdown from 10, everyone in attendance turned to watch roughly a million lights on the tree lite up. The 50-foot-tall tree can be seen for several blocks down the streets leading to the State House and illuminate the monuments standing nearby.
As the governor returned to his seat, he was greeted by U.S. Army Training Center and Fort Jackson Commander Brig. Gen. Milford "Beags" Beagle Jr.
The Cocktails, a University of South Carolina all-female a cappella group, sang "O Christmas Tree" after the tree was lit.
Several more song and the benediction were delivered as the Carolighting came to an end and the attendees moved to surround the tree to admire the lights and take photos of families standing in front of it.
"If you missed it, you missed it," Mullins said. "Next year don't miss it."
For those who did miss the event, the 53rd Annual Governor's Carolighting can be watched on YouTube and photos can be found using #governorscarolighting on social media sites.