Christmas tree lighting ignites holiday in downtown State College

Santa helps William Hay, 6, use the magic jingle bells to light the tree during the Downtown State College tree lighting ceremony on Friday, November 7, 2014.
Santa helps William Hay, 6, use the magic jingle bells to light the tree during the Downtown State College tree lighting ceremony on Friday, November 7, 2014. CDT photo

With the click of a button, more than 5,000 lights lit up a Christmas tree Friday night on the sidewalk in front of the Allen Street gates.

In that moment, dozens of people flocked from a stage on South Allen Street that featured Santa and Mrs. Claus who performed for the public, to take photos of the tree donated by Ferguson Township and Centre Region Parks and Recreation.

It was the annual lighting of the Christmas tree hosted by the Downtown State College Improvement District for its monthly First Friday event.

Penn State students Sierra Kuhn and her boyfriend Mark Wallisch were walking back from class when they were confused by the commotion, but still stopped to take a selfie in front of the tree.

“Halloween was just last week — I can’t believe we’re celebrating the holidays already,” Kuhn said. “But it’s the time of year that brings people together and I guess that just means we’re getting excited a little earlier to be with loved ones.”

DID Executive Director George Arnold said that the 2013 tree lighting ceremony was held the Thursday before Thanksgiving.

This year, he said that the retail community suggested to make the tree lighting part of the First Friday party.

On those days, downtown hosts live entertainment and activities, while businesses stay open later in an effort to attract more people to the area.

“We’re just trying something new,” Arnold said. “We’re always looking to improve the First Fridays and we came together and thought this would be a good way to do it.”

But with Halloween last Friday, and a holiday celebration on Friday night, Arnold said it left limited time to get things ready.

“We were in a crunch,” Arnold said. “We didn’t want to start putting up the lights before Halloween, but then only had a few days after to get done what we needed to.”

He said community members teamed up with borough leaders and the Office of Physical Plant at Penn State to hang up new signs, snowflake lights along Beaver Avenue, and lights on the trees on South Allen Street.

Friday’s event included holiday songs from the brass quartet and choir from State College Area High School, the Nittany Valley Children’s Choir, a performance of “A Christmas Carol” and “Scrooge! The Musical” from the Performing Arts School of Central Pennsylvania and Fuse Productions.

Radio personality Jeff Brown read “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and Santa was escorted downtown by an Alpha Fire Company firetruck.

When it was announced that Santa was on his way, Frank Milford walked quickly to the intersection of East College Avenue and South Allen Street with his granddaughter, Maisie Milford, on his shoulders.

The 3-year-old said she was hoping to tell Santa she wanted toys from the Disney movie, “Frozen,” this year for Christmas.

“I’m on the good list,” she said.

The event also allowed the public to bring toys and nonperishable food items to donate to Toys for Tots and area food banks that were collected by the Alpha Fire Company, Arnold said.

For the next First Friday event Dec. 5, Arnold said he is working with local churches to sing Christmas carols around downtown, and working with about 30 businesses to participate in a ticket giveaway to the Billy Joel concert.

He said offering customers incentives for visiting downtown is just another way to improve the First Friday events.

“We want this to be something people want to come to and see downtown is the place to be,” Arnold said.