It was a crisp, clear winter night, with just the right amount of nip in the air to let everyone know Christmas is coming — and so is Santa, who was welcomed to White Lake on Wednesday evening with the annual tree-lighting ceremony hosted by .
“Santa’s always the crowd favorite,” said Greg Baroni, White Lake Township supervisor.
Rolling into town with Mrs. Claus at his side, Santa arrived in style, riding on a 1940s decorated fire truck, courtesy of the . With children and parents waving and cheering them on, the Clauses made their way to the middle of Village Lakes Shopping Center, where the big man himself received a key for the city from Baroni.
Then, with approximately a thousand people waiting and watching, the countdown began to light the White Lake Christmas tree and officially welcome the Christmas season.
The 14-foot tree, covered in multicolored festive lights, sparkled to life to the cheers of the crowd.
"Just seeing everybody getting together and enjoying the evening, that’s the main thing,” Baroni said. “I really believe Christmas is for kids, and this is one of those things we like to make for the kids.”
The family atmosphere continued throughout the evening as people enjoyed the other entertainment the night had to offer, which included petting live reindeer, enjoying the music of the Walled Lake Northern marching band, dancers from the and making s’mores from a fire pit — a new addition to this year’s celebration, according to Baroni, that seemed to be a big hit with some members of the crowd.
“I was pretty impressed with the marshmallow roasting and just the fact that there’s so many people here,” said Wendy Klement, who was there with her daughter Melissa.
Although this will be the third year the tree lighting has taken place in the Village Lakes Shopping Center, this was the first year the entire event has been planned outdoors due to new businesses moving in to once vacant locations. But the crowd didn’t seem to mind the chilly temperatures too much, taking it all in as part of the spirit of the season.
“We have our free coffee and hot chocolate to keep our hands warm,” said White Lake resident Cindy Isherwood. “You can tell they’re trying to make a sense of community for White Lake, which we haven’t had too much of, and now there’s a nice area to do it.”
The reward for braving the cold weather for this annual event is the sense of togetherness and Christmas spirit it brings to the families, according to Huron Valley Optimist Club member Diane LaBreache, who volunteers at the event.
"It’s worth it,” LaBreache said. “You see your neighbors, you see people you haven’t seen in a while, and it’s just fun. There’s a whole family atmosphere.”
Jennifer Nelson, who was there with her family — including her young son, Zach, who was going to ask Santa to bring him lots of cars this Christmas — agrees that the event was a fun family activity. She gave some advice for anyone thinking of going next year.
“Dress warmly,” she said. “And bring a stroller.”