As it has for the past 32 years, Danville celebrated the day after Thanksgiving by draping the town's ancient oak with lights stretching to the top of the tree and out along its massive branches. Residents came together for a host of reasons: to listen to wonderful music and singing; to sip hot cider and coffee; to visit the downtown merchants and see the beautiful decorations; or simply to reconnect with friends and neighbors while the town indulges in one of its oldest traditions.
The Tree Lighting ceremony, sponsored by the Danville Area Chamber of Commerce, filled the downtown streets with light and sound. Chamber President Melony Newman said this year's crowd of 8,000-10,000 was one of the biggest they have seen so far.
"This event just keeps growing and growing," she said. "I asked the crowd how many first-time visitors we had and I couldn't believe how many people were coming out for the first time. And then we have the people who've been coming to this for years and years."
The festivities began at 5:15 p.m. when the San Ramon Valley High School choir took the stage on Diablo Road and under the direction of Ken Abrams provided a cornucopia of holiday themes. Newman said that by 4 p.m. she was already seeing people begin to gather and set out chairs. "It was just like when people set out their chairs for the Fourth of July parade. They must really have been looking forward to it."
Children sat in rows six deep while others packed around the outside just to listen. Many gathered in the streets or in the shops, catching up with neighbors and enjoying the evening.
At 6:15 p.m. Danville Mayor Candace Andersen took the stage. Andersen expressed her excitement at seeing so many families turning out to be a part of the festivities before turning the microphone over to Father Christmas and the Snow Angel, who presided over the Tree Lighting.
White beard flowing over his ruby robe, Father Christmas extended a wish of holiday cheer to those present. "Congratulations, Danville, on the 32nd anniversary of lighting the Old Oak Tree. Join us by sharing the spirit of the holidays throughout the downtown area."
Father Christmas had the crowd close their eyes while the stage and street lights darkened. Everyone then counted down from 10 and when they reached one, they opened their eyes to see the Snow Angel sprinkle magic dust and the tree light up to the cheers of the assembled residents.
Afterward the Christmas pair walked through the downtown, talking to the throngs of children, posing for pictures, and listening to the children's Christmas wishes.
While people enjoy the music of the choirs and the hot cider, cookies and popcorn local businesses provided to those in attendance, the real reason to come downtown that first Friday after Thanksgiving runs deeper.
"It's about family and community," Newman said. "It's about bringing families together, letting them connect with their friends and neighbors, and bringing in the holiday spirit."