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Where is Federal Way's official Christmas tree?
A buzz of anticipation coursed through the crowd Saturday as neighbors shared stories, carolers sung holiday music and youngsters jumped around in excitement.
Onlookers, who had stood in the evening's biting cold for the better part of an hour, eagerly awaited the lighting of the holiday tree. From afar, a siren could be heard and Santa made his appearance atop a fire truck. Kids, giggling and smiling, flocked to see him. The jolly man greeted the children and handed out candy before beginning a countdown. Then, the bare-limbed oak tree at the base of the Anna Lemon Wheelock Public Library burst into color.
The event, which happened in Tacoma's Proctor District, was a heartwarming experience. It attracted more than 100 visitors, many of whom turned out with friends and family. The streets were bright with twinkling lights and people bustled about the neighborhood, ducking into several of the small businesses while they awaited the night's events.
The festival has become a mainstay in the Proctor District. The Tacoma festivities are something merchants in Federal Way's Dash Point Village would have loved to see in their neighborhood.
Last year, The Dash Point Merchants Association set out to give Federal Way its own holiday tree lighting. Roughly half of the businesses in the Dash Point Village plaza got together and put on a show similar to what was seen in Tacoma this past weekend. The association purchased a large tree and invited Santa to join the crowd in lighting the evergreen. Warm drinks and tasty appetizers were dispersed. Several of the participating merchants welcomed visitors with craft projects or special deals. There was face-painting and caroling. A close-knit community feeling lingered in the air, Kim Blake said.
Blake, owner of Splish Splash Doggy Bath in Dash Point Village, contributed to last year's event by participating in the merchants association. It took a lot of work and roughly $4,000 to give Federal Way its own holiday tree and festival. The community enjoyed the attraction and hundreds of people showed up, Blake said. Kids scuttled up and down the sidewalks, and the plaza was bursting with activity, she said.
This year will not be a repeat of last year. Business owners at Dash Point Village are still interested in a tree lighting, but circumstances have changed in the past year. Some merchants, including the plaza's anchor tenant, Metropolitan Market, closed their doors in 2010. The remaining merchants are struggling to keep their businesses afloat. They cannot afford to take time away from their own operations to volunteer for the event. Nor can they afford to pitch money toward a holiday festival. Business this year was tougher than in 2009, said Carol Fraley, who helped organize last year's get-together.
"This year, it just wasn't in the budget for a lot of the merchants," Blake said.
Dash Point Village has not given up on the idea of a tree lighting. Blake hopes merchants will reclaim business and regain confidence next year, making way for the holiday tree lighting to return. If public interest can be generated without advertising, a festival could take place for relatively little money, said Fraley, Dash Point Village's Edward Jones senior branch office administrator.
"To develop a community atmosphere, it doesn't have to be a major affair," she said.
Fraley would like to see the City of Federal Way get involved in a holiday tree lighting for the community. Fraley said she's disappointed the city is willing to spend money pursuing a performing arts center, but won't spend anything on a tree lighting ceremony.
"It just seems like such an easy thing to do for the community," she said.
Did you know?
Tacoma has had a few more years than Federal Way to perfect the art of a holiday tree lighting. Federal Way was incorporated 20 years ago, while Tacoma's incorporation dates back to 1875. The first documented Christmas tree lighting in Tacoma happened in the early 1900s in Wright Park, said Brian Kamens, a Tacoma Public Library employee. By the late 1940s, Tacoma had taken up a tradition of lighting a tree at South Ninth Street and Broadway.
The tradition continues and the tree at this location is considered the official Tacoma Christmas tree, Kamens said. Each year, a tree is chosen from Joint Base Lewis-McChord and brought to Tacoma. The Tacoma Chamber of Commerce usually plays a role in the lighting, he said. A parade follows the grand event. This year's lighting attracted more than 1,500 people, according to the Tacoma News Tribune.