A popular holiday tradition will be continued in Mount Airy Thursday night when the lighting of the city’s official Christmas tree is staged for the 22nd year.
Everyone is invited to the event that annually draws hundreds of people to the lawn of the Municipal Building on South Main Street, under the sponsorship of the Mount Airy Appearance Commission.
It begins Thursday at 5:55 p.m. with the ringing of bells from nearby First Presbyterian Church and further will include special remarks, holiday music featuring bluegrass/old-time musicians and an enthusiastic countdown by the crowd leading to the tree lighting.
“Everybody gets so excited about this tree,” said Michella Huff, the city’s longtime grounds and maintenance supervisor, who has been involved in planning the lighting program for its entire duration.
An annual appearance by Santa Claus will climax the evening. He arrives every year in dramatic fashion — including on the back of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle for the 2016 gathering — then remains on the grounds to meet with children.
The annual program offers a way for people from throughout the community to gather on a single spot to celebrate and help usher in the Christmas season in a special way, Huff said in assessing what it means for the city.
Honorary tree lighters
A distinguished member of the community is selected each year for the honor of flipping the switch to illuminate the lights on a large white ash tree on a corner of the City Hall lawn.
Jennie Lowry; her husband, Rick Caudill; and their three children, Rickie, Madeline and James, will fill that role for the 2017 event.
“They do so much for Mount Airy,” said Huff.
She explained that members of the Appearance Commission, chaired by Allen Burton, wanted to show their appreciation for the volunteer work Lowry and family provide throughout the community.
“Especially with the Downtown Business Association,” Huff said of the organization Lowry has long been involved with, including spearheading holiday parades, cruise-ins and other activities under its banner.
“Jennie puts in countless hours to make downtown Mount Airy the best it can be,” she added of Lowry, who is associated with the Olde Mill Music business in addition to being a local radio personality.
Another highlight of this year’s program will be holiday tunes performed by members of two traditional music groups, to occur after the tree is lit.
This includes The South Carolina Broadcasters (David and Ivy Sheppard), along with The Pilot Mountain Bobcats (Bill and Nancy Sluys), a collaboration resulting from Wednesday night jams at The White Elephant Brewing Company.
They are scheduled to play two selections Thursday night, “Jingle Bells” and “Christmas Time’s A-Coming,” a trademark song of bluegrass legend Bill Monroe.
Featured instruments will be the fiddle, banjo, guitar and bass.
Also on the schedule Thursday are:
• Mayor David Rowe, who will offer welcoming remarks and introduce Brack Llewellyn, the master of ceremonies for the program.
• An opening prayer by Paul Danley, a member of the Mount Airy Appearance Commission.
• Remarks by the mayor near the end of the program, including recognizing members of the commission and others who make the event possible, before Llewellyn announces the arrival of Santa.
The Beacons group of First Presbyterian Church will provide hot chocolate to those attending, another tradition of the tree-lighting event.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.