FORT JACKSON, S.C. --The Fort Jackson holiday season officially started last week with Friday's Christmas tree, manger and Menorah lighting in front of Post Headquarters.

The frosty weather, smell of hot cocoa and sounds of the season set the mood for the event. Adults and children alike treated themselves to complimentary holiday delicacies while the 282nd Army Band entertained the crowd with a Christmas medley.

"With the holidays upon us, we are reminded of how blessed we are to live in freedom and celebrate our faith, family and friends," said Brig. Gen. Bradley May, Fort Jackson's commanding general.

May asked the crowd to keep deployed service members in their prayers this holiday season.

"As we gather with loved ones and friends, let us not forget those who are out on freedom's frontier who won't be home for the holidays," he said.

Setting the stage for the lighting, the Daniel Circle Mass Choir and Children's Choir performed a variety of festive songs.

When May, Fort Jackson Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Stall and two members of the Daniel Circle Children's Choir pushed the button that illuminated the Christmas tree, manger and Menorah, the crowd responded with cheers and applause.

To cap off the evening, a special guest made a surprise appearance. Despite a busy schedule - and with the help of the Fort Jackson Fire Department - Santa Claus and one of his trusted elves made the trip from the North Pole to South Carolina. Much to the delight of the children in attendance, he took time to meet each of those who waited patiently in line.

For Lisa Sanderson, a native New Yorker who moved to Columbia in September, the ceremony brought back memories.

"I'm really missing home right now," she said. "It makes me feel closer to home and my family."