FORT BENNING, Ga. - Fort Benning families escaped the rain Tuesday, gathering inside The Infantry Center Chapel Tuesday for the annual lighting of the Menorah and Christmas tree. Before the ceremonial lighting, the Maneuver Center of Excellence Band and chorale groups from Faith Middle School, Wilson, Stowers and Loyd elementary schools provided Chanukah and yuletide music. Afterward, all were invited for holiday refreshments.

"This definitely did kick off the holiday season," said Shalynda Armwood, who PCSed from Minnesota in May.

"The festivities kind of made us forget that we don't have any snow. I'm taking it all in," she said. "It was nice to go out and see the children enjoying themselves and singing Christmas music - spreading the holiday cheer."

The tree and Menorah lighting, which usually takes place outdoors, was moved inside the chapel because of rain.

The tradition of decorating an evergreen tree originally came from Germany, said Chaplain (MAJ) Richard Garvey

At the top of the tree, a star represents the star that revealed to the world the Nativity of Bethlehem, Garvey said, explaining the historic and religious significance of the tree.

"The tree lit by the little lights is the symbol of the light that Jesus brought into the world. The Christmas tree represents a tree of life, love and peace."

Chaplain (MAJ) Carlos Huerta explained the meaning of the Menorah, which dates back more than 2,000 years to a time when Jerusalem was under siege.

"There was only enough oil to burn for one day in the holy Menorah," Huerta said, "but miraculously the oil lasted for eight days. So traditionally we light one candle per day for eight days to symbolize the miracle of the oil."

After the lighting, Santa Claus arrived to take pictures with the kids and hear their holiday wishes.

"I asked him for Heelys - they're shoes that have wheels on the bottom," said 8-year-old Breanna McMurray. "He's gonna get the elves working on it."

McMurray said she enjoyed the lighting ceremony.

"I think it was a pretty moment ... all the lights shining, (and) it was a great way to learn about how people in different cultures celebrate," she said.

"(Christmas) is my favorite holiday because I get to be with the ones I love."