Armed with their cell phones, more than 200 Alton residents ushered in the Christmas season with the annual lighting of the Mayor’s Christmas Tree, and snapped multiple selfies to commemorate the occasion.
The Tuesday tree lighting, held in front of the Alton Recreation Center, invited members of the community to enjoy the nearly 30-foot tall tree adorned in more than 3,000 lights.
“This is what helps the city usher in the Christmas season,” Alton recreation director Samm Mercado said. “Families are very receptive to community events like this, we like to see them hanging out together and we are always looking forward to this.”
Attendees enjoyed fresh hot chocolate and coffee and cookies provided by students form Alton Memorial Jr. High School and the city’s police explorers program while students from Jessie L. Jensen Elementary School’s cheer team provided entertainment.
For Mercado, seeing members of the community-especially children-volunteering to bring the event to life represents the spirit of the season.
“We’re definitely a community, so when you get members of the community to help, it truly makes it a hometown event,” Mercado said. “When you look and see all the people looking at each other, holding on to each other, with moms and kids, to me that’s what makes a community.”
Janette Ibarra, a strategist at Alton Memorial Jr. High School, oversaw the students volunteering at the event.
“They volunteer to appreciate what they have and what they do not have,” Ibarra explained. “They need to know there’s some other people who aren’t as fortunate as they are to do something as simple as enjoying a cup of hot chocolate to see how some things we take for granted brings joy to others.”
Among the students volunteering was Jamie Sosa, an 8th grader who says she views the volunteering opportunity as a way to get to know the members of her community.
“I want to be a psychiatrist when I grow up so I know I will need to master basic skills to get to talk to people and help them,” Sosa said. “This is my second-year volunteering here and it’s great. It’s all about making the people we talk to feel welcome as they celebrate something special with their families.”
Carmen Hernandez, an Alton resident who showed up to the event with her daughter and grandson, Gabriel, visited the tree lighting ceremony and said it would be Gabriel’s first tree lighting ceremony.
She praised community members for their involvement in the event.
“It shows the kids how the community embraces the holidays while they give back,” Hernandez said. “It’s good to see them give back like this because they can make something wonderful out of it such as seeing the community together.”
Christmas festivities for Alton continue next weekend when the city holds their annual Christmas Parade on Saturday, Dec. 14 at 11 a.m. and their Christmas Festival that same day at 5 p.m. at the Alton Recreation Center.
This article originally appeared in the Friday Dec. 6, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.