State College Christmas tree lighting sets stage for holidays

Sidney MacDowell’s face lit up Thursday night when she saw Santa Claus drive by on an Alpha fire truck on East College Avenue.

He made a stop downtown just in time for the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony hosted by the Downtown State College Improvement District, where about 400 people were in attendance.

“I think I’ll ask him for a bunch of new toys,” Sidney, 6, said. “I’m sure I’m on Santa’s good list. But my brother is definitely on the naughty list this year. He doesn’t like to eat the healthy stuff at dinner.”

George Arnold, executive director of the Downtown State College Improvement District, said the ceremony has been a State College tradition for at least 30 years.

“It’s the kickoff to the holidays and somewhere people come to enjoy downtown,” he said.

A 10-second countdown was made to the tree lighting after a handful of other events and activities. When the tree was lit, the crowd cheered.

“We come down here because it’s that time of year that really gets you in the holiday spirit,” said Thai Murray, a State College resident.

Murray and his wife, Pamela, moved to State College last year from Madison, Wis. When they first arrived, the first downtown event they attended was the tree lighting.

“I think since we’re still somewhat new to the area, this will be a nice traditional outing for us each year,” Murray said.

Each year, State College is working with local businesses and the borough to improve the downtown holiday surroundings, Arnold said.

“We have more trees downtown decorated, and we’ve encouraged businesses to decorate their windows,” Arnold said.

The window decorating is part of a contest. A committee will vote on the business with the most festive and best window downtown by the first week of December, Arnold said.

“It’s all part of making downtown a more festive atmosphere,” Arnold said.

The ceremony also included an excerpt from “Scrooge: The Musical” by the State College Community Theatre; a reading of “The Night Before Christmas” by Doyle Wilkerson, who acted as Mrs. Claus; a performance by the Penn State Brass Quintet and other live entertainment.