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Santa Claus makes a special appearance at the 29th annual Encinitas Heritage Tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 1. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Santa Claus makes a special appearance at the 29th annual Encinitas Heritage Tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 1. Photo by Samantha Nelson
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Encinitas Heritage Tree lighting launches holiday season

ENCINITAS – Hundreds of people flocked to Moonlight Beach to celebrate the kickoff of the holiday season with the lighting of the Encinitas Heritage Tree on Dec. 1.

Families with young children gathered for the festivity-filled holiday show in the upper Moonlight Beach parking lot as the sun set Friday evening, leading up to the 29th annual tree lighting ceremony. 

Once lit, the 90-foot-tall Norfolk Island Pine could be seen for dozens of miles out at sea, according to volunteers.

“It’s like a beacon on the coastline,” longtime volunteer Jim Filanc previously told The Coast News.

The tree, located at the corner of 4th and C streets, was first planted in 1952 by brothers Peter and John Danforth. It became the city’s second “heritage tree” in 2011, a title that gives it protected status. 

Since 1994, longtime Encinitas resident Luis Ortiz has been lighting the tree with volunteer community support. Crew members from a local construction company help to string the LED lights running up and down the tree’s mass of branches. 

Traditionally, the tree is lit the day before the city’s annual Christmas parade each year. Both events signify the beginning of the city’s annual holiday season. 

Families gather in awe under the massive pine tree lit for the holiday season on the corner of 4th and C Streets in Encinitas. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Families gather in awe under the massive pine tree lit for the holiday season on the corner of 4th and C Streets in Encinitas. Photo by Samantha Nelson

Over the years, the tree lighting event has grown from a small, informal gathering to a major community celebration. 

“I remember when it used to be much smaller,” said Deputy Mayor Joy Lyndes as she spoke to a crowd of hundreds.

The City of Encinitas and the Encinitas Historical Society are now sponsors of the tree lighting event, and the city pledged to contribute up to $10,000 in production costs plus services including trash, recycling, restrooms and publicity.

With the extra support, this year’s stage was much larger than previous years. Featured performances included a medley of Christmas songs by local band Free Verse and holiday carols by the San Diego North Coast Singers and three “EnSINGnitas” children’s choirs from El Camino Creek, Parkdale Lane and Mission Estancia Elementary schools.

Though the tree lighting is certainly the main reason behind the annual gathering, younger attendees seemed more thrilled when Santa and Mrs. Claus made a special appearance by riding in on an Encinitas fire truck. As the Claus couple made their way to the stage, they were swarmed by a crowd of eager children – and several parents – excited to meet Santa. 

With this year’s event successfully wrapped up, volunteers look forward to seeing the tree lit over the coastline each evening for the next month – and will soon begin plans for its 30th anniversary next year.

Encinitas reporter Abigail Sourwine contributed to this report.

Local band Free Verse played a medley of Christmas jams leading up to the tree lighting. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Local band Free Verse play a medley of Christmas jams leading up to the 29th annual Encinitas Heritage Tree lighting on Dec. 1 Photo by Samantha Nelson
An EnSINGnitas children's choir performs at the 29th annual Encinitas Heritage Tree lighting on Dec. 1. Photo by Samantha Nelson
An EnSINGnitas children’s choir performs at the 29th annual Encinitas Heritage Tree lighting on Dec. 1. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Santa Claus made a special appearance at the 29th annual Encinitas Heritage Tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 1. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Santa Claus makes a special appearance at the 29th annual Encinitas Heritage Tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 1. Photo by Samantha Nelson

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