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Crowds gathered around the Christmas tree at San Marcos Civic Center for the annual lighting. The city has been hosting the event for 25 years. Photo by Stephanie Stang
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Santa lights tree at annual San Marcos Christmas event

SAN MARCOS — The tree was aglow, snow was in the air and Santa was in the night sky at the annual Christmas tree lighting at the San Marcos Civic Center. Thousands of people gathered for an event that’s been planned by the city since 1994.

“This is a heavily attended event, one of our biggest after the Fourth of July,” said Jennifer Overman from the San Marcos Parks and Recreation Department. “We keep trying to add cool and fun things to make the event exciting. But we also want to keep a lot of the tradition. For instance, we have free crafts, cookie decorating, and photos with Santa,” she said.

The city has the largely attended show’s execution down to a science. “Honestly when we are doing this event, we are thinking about things we need to remember for next year. Things we need to do next year,” said Overman of preparing for the event that draws 5,000 people.

Many departments are involved in planning it beyond the parks department including the police and fire department to help with public safety.

Children can get their pictures taken with Santa, there are various food vendors, performances by school choirs and a very popular cookie decorating hut.

Kristy Rohrer recently moved to the city with her four children and husband. She found out about the event online and was pleasantly surprised to find most of the activities were free.  “They love the cookie decorating. Kids love sugar!” she said.

“The children always like the complimentary photo,” Overman said. “Often there is a pretty penny if you go elsewhere. A lady told me last year that ‘this is my third child and every year we go.’”

The highlight of the event is when Santa comes in on a fire truck to light the tree. He climbs to the very top of the hook and ladder while the crowd cheers. He then touches the tree and it magically lights up the sky. Music then starts to play.

Dan and Liz Drew gathered as a family for their first tree lighting. “We are trying to start a tradition,” Dan Drew said. “Customers at work said the event was wonderful and that there was a lady here selling great fudge.

Liz Drew was anxious to see other noteworthy “items” at the lighting. “We are really excited about the snow,” she said. “We don’t get to see snow very often.”

Traditionally after the tree is lit, the city makes “snow” with four snow machines. They are really more like snow bubbles but it is white and falls gracefully like a snowflake.

“Our tech guy came up with the idea and everybody liked it and so we did more because everybody wanted more snow,” said Overman.

“It’s fun and I think it gets people a little more in the mood. This actually made me think of Disneyland because this is exactly because Disney does with the music and bubbles and everything,” said Cheryl Weber of the snow.

She now brings her granddaughter to the event after watching her children perform on stage years ago. “The school district has their chorus come here and the kids get to go on stage and perform,” she said. “My kids did that growing up. We come every year and it’s just a lot of fun.

“I think we continue to do it because of the sense of community. We are not a huge city but we large enough that it feels like a hometown event.  It’s a good way for people to come together and celebrate fun holiday cheer.”