FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- With the flick of a switch, the large tree on McGlachlin Parade Field illuminated with a spectacle of green, blue and red lights that was met with applause from the onlookers.

"The tree is spectacular," said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Matt Orendorff.

An estimated 500 people attended the installation's annual Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony on Friday evening. The free ceremony, hosted by the Garrison Chaplain's Office, also featured caroling, refreshments and a visit from a fire truck-riding Santa Claus.

Chaplain (Maj.) Mark Jacobs said the 35-foot-tall, artificial tree was set up by the Melwood staff, while students from the Defense Information School decorated the parade field with garland, ribbons and candy canes. Refreshments of pastries, candy and coffee were provided by the chapel staff.

Garrison Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Sid Taylor said the tree reminded him of Rockefeller Center in New York City during the holidays.

"It's that kickoff where the community comes together and kicks off the holiday season," he said. "It's in keeping with the new American traditions."

The 30-minute ceremony began with members of the Combined Chapel Community Children's Choir, accompanied by the U.S. Army Field Band Brass Ensemble, performing Christmas carols, including "Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful" and "Let There Be Peace on Earth."

Following the caroling, Garrison Commander Col. Edward C. Rothstein and Taylor addressed the audience. Taylor said he hoped everybody's holiday season will be safe, sacred and special.

"I pray for special memories and special moments for you and your family, that you won't forget the little things -- simplicity is good," he said.

Having recently returned from a deployment in Afghanistan, Rothstein asked the audience to observe a moment of silence to remember the service members who are not with their families during the holidays this year.

"This season is a time for giving and a time for reflection," he said. "In honor of those who are away from their loved ones, that are still in harm's way ... please take a moment of silence."

Rothstein, who said that it was a "great honor" to attend the ceremony and share the moment with members of the Fort Meade community, invited the children to help him light the tree.

As the choir and band -- and some audience members -- began to sing "Silent Night," volunteers from the chaplain's office walked through the crowd lighting candles for audience members.

The group of children surrounding Rothstein near the gazebo anxiously waited as the audience counted down from 10.

At one, the crowd shouted "light that tree" and in an instant, the switch was flipped and the tree lit up in shades of green, blue, red and yellow, sending cheers throughout the parade field.

"It was cool," said Jasmine Jones, 8. "The tree is really tall compared to me."

After the tree lighting, the crowd joined in to sing one more carol to welcome Santa Claus. During "Jingle Bells," Santa rode high atop a fire truck. Children lined the side of English Avenue as Santa dismounted from the truck and made his way to his seat inside the gazebo to meet with youngsters.

Dominique Stangee, 5, of Odenton said she was surprised when she saw Santa arriving on a fire truck. Her 8-year-old brother Donovan said it was "crazy."

Following the ceremony, participants were invited for refreshments inside two tents set up on the parade field.

Orendorff, who was attending the ceremony for a second time, said he and his three children enjoyed the festivities.

"It was a fantastic experience for the kids," he said.