Freezing cold temperatures, check. Large crowd anxiously waiting, check. Booming reaction to a vibrantly lit tree, check.
The over-riding factor, however, for Friday’s tree lighting ceremony was pride. Hundreds of locals flocked to a small corner of Victorian Avenue to watch Mayor Geno Martini flip the comically large switch and cheer in adoration. Although temperatures dipped below freezing long before the tree was lit, Sparks residents found value in coming out to support their city.
The tree lighting was only the beginning of Sparks Hometowne Christmas, which sets up shop throughout the weekend with a craft fair and plenty of activities, that began at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Sparks City Councilman Ron Smith was amazed at the number of people gathering near the amphitheater in downtown Sparks as the clocked ticked closer to the 7 p.m. lighting. He said in years past the tree lighting ceremony was done following Saturday’s parade and it eventually led to a dwindling crowd. Holding it the night before had its share of unknowns, but Smith was thrilled at the amount of people who attended.
“We made the suggestion to switch to Friday evening and we weren’t real sure how it would work, but look at this crowd,” Smith said emphatically. “There is a lot of people here and it is cold out here. This is wonderful.”
John Ascuaga’s Nugget employees joined the fun by handing out free cookies and hot cocoa to those in attendance. Some of the winter chill was also blocked by the catchy sounds of a local three-piece band, mixing some holiday classics with upbeat country tunes.
The Christmas tree was provided by Sparks’ sister city Garibaldi, Ore., which has been a holiday tradition in Sparks for 25 years. The city agreed earlier this year to plant its own living Christmas tree for future celebrations, relieving Garibaldi of its obligation to bring a tree. Smith said the relationship formed between the two cities will remain strong and he added that it was a bittersweet moment.
“It is sad to see the relationship ending, but they are still our sister city,” Smith said. “I think what our staff has done to bring in a living tree is great and I am really looking forward to those celebrations in the future.”
Nightmares surfaced of last year’s Hometowne Christmas being pushed back one week after a potential flood was forecast, but Smith said a little snow on Saturday morning wouldn’t be enough to stop the City of Sparks staff and its many of volunteers.
“They look forward to coming down to this thing,” Smith said. “We always worry that it is going to be cold, and we may have snow on the ground tomorrow morning for the parade, but I bet you the crowd is as big as ever. That is our family and our city that we all love.
“It shows that Sparks comes together. We get the families out here, kids get to have candy and people can see their kids in the parade. The (city) council is a secondary part of that parade, but we have a lot of fun doing it.”