Nothing signifies the start of the holiday season like a tree-lighting ceremony. Whether it is the Daley Plaza in the Loop or Times Square in New York, this gesture has the uncanny ability to unify community residents of all ages and races alike.
Crowds gather in the most frigid cold and snowfall to be in attendance at the moment the big switch is flipped. With hot chocolate on their breath, they cheer and laugh like it’s already Christmas morning. Few community events have quite this mass appeal.
Now, consider if you will the consequences of bringing such an event to the Austin community. Could a 40-foot lit fir tree serve as a monolithic marker that could not only unify the town but also signify its aspirations to become a site of boundless economic opportunity?
The Austin Chamber of Commerce certainly thinks so as do the officers at the new 15th District Police Station. The two entities joined forces on Nov. 30, to bring the first tree-lighting ever to the Austin community. The tree is lit in front of the station, located at 5701 W. Madison.
The Austin Chamber of Commerce spearheaded the event. President Camille Lilly felt that a tree-lighting ceremony would be a perfect starting point to encouraging residents to become more involved in making Austin fiscally prosperous.
“We developed a partnership with the police station, who loved our idea and was glad to help,” said Lilly. “Particularly Commander Alfonso Wysinger, who gave the okay to plant the tree outside the station house.”
“From there it just began to come together perfectly,” Lilly added. “Alderman Ike [Isaac] Carothers got involved in the effort, even putting money up to support the effort. Aldermen Emma Mitts [ 37th Ward] and Ed Smith [28th Ward] also took part in the effort.”
Community politicians also rode in a parade marking the occasion held just prior to the tree-lighting ceremony.
In all, the tree-lighting drew support from about 13 different community representatives, including state Rep. Deborah Graham and County Commissioner Earlene Collins as well as, community businesses who donated funds to finance the event.
These donations were allocated to support the placement and lighting of the tree and decorating select areas throughout the community, specifically down Central/Chicago, Madison/Austin, and Division/Laramie.
“We had over 40 businesses sponsor the event,” said Lilly, including Green Grass Real Estate, the Greater Austin Development Association and Shetland Properties. “We also had wonderful performances from the Austin Spiritual Choir, Michelle Clark High School Choir, and Crusaders Church Drill Team, who performed during the lighting ceremony.”
A crowd of more than 300 gathered Nov. 30. Following the choir performances, Santa arrived to pass out stocking stuffers and coupons to all who were fortunate enough to witness the event. Santa lit the tree shortly after 6 p.m.
“It went so well and everyone had a great time,” said Lilly. “I hope we can make this an annual event because we need to begin to get excited about the economic opportunities all around us in Austin. If we don’t support our own community, it cannot thrive.”
With this bold gesture, the future of Austin is looking even brighter.