The gift of light was a central theme as hundreds of people gathered in Mount Airy Thursday night for the 22nd-annual program to help kick off the Christmas season.
A large white ash tree on the Municipal Building lawn was the center of their attention, which became even more imposing when an electrical switch was flipped to reveal its sparkling lights against the dark sky as the crowd cheered.
As those attending marveled at the sight, they were reminded that the city’s official Christmas tree should be viewed not only as an eye-catching holiday decoration throughout the season, but also for its symbolic value.
“It’s more than just lighting up the street,” said Brack Llewellyn, master of ceremonies for the longtime yuletide event sponsored by the Mount Airy Appearance Commission. “It shines out as sort of a beacon.”
Although it occupies a solitary spot on South Main Street, “that’s what this tree will be for the entire town,” Llewellyn added regarding its presence as a token of hope and unity.
The traditional tree-lighting event is always well attended, fueled by the spirit of Christmas in addition to holiday music offered during the program each year, special remarks and a climactic appearance by Santa Claus. He is known for choosing a unique mode of arrival, which Thursday night was in the passenger seat of a Mayberry squad car.
Lighting the tree itself is always a highly coveted role, one enthusiastically embraced this year by Jennie Lowry, a Downtown Business Association official; her husband, Rick Caudill; and their three children, Rickie, Madeline and James.
To handle that task, members of the appearance group endeavor to select individuals who make a difference in the community, with Lowry and family more than filling the bill in that regard, the crowd was told.
“She genuinely cares,” Llewellyn said in describing the efforts of Lowry. She spends countless volunteer hours spearheading various events from cruise-ins to holiday parades and other activities to promote the downtown area, while expecting nothing in return, the emcee said.
On Thursday night, that included flipping the all-important switch to light the city Christmas tree.
“I was honored,” Lowry said of being chosen for that part of the program. “I have admired this tree for years and had no idea I would be asked to light it some day.”
Lowry added that she loves the town and has “always loved this event.”
Further adding to Thursday night’s festivities was holiday music provided by an array of musicians.
Included was a collaboration of members from two local bluegrass/old-time bands, The South Carolina Broadcasters (David and Ivy Sheppard), and The Pilot Mountain Bobcats (Bill and Nancy Sluys).
Wielding the fiddle, banjo, guitar and bass, the quartet performed holiday favorites including “Christmas Time’s A-Coming,” “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
Yet the simple thing that brought everyone together was highlighted throughout.
In addition to Llewellyn, the gift of light was focused on by Paul Danley, a member of the Mount Airy Appearance Commission, who offered special remarks for the occasion in addition to an opening prayer.
That gift includes the light of creation and the glory of the stars and other heavenly objects — and a simple tree in Mount Airy, North Carolina, Danley said.
“May this tree of light lead us to the perfect light.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.