On the first Monday night of the past twenty or thirty Decembers, everyone in Lago Vista has gathered for the lighting of the Christmas tree and the arrival of Santa Claus. A large pine tree in the median of a main street was dedicated as the official tree by some illustrious city father, and for years afterward the street was blocked off, the Rotarians served hot chocolate, the high school band played, the elementary school choir sang, and children reveled in the dark, running wild and free of watchful parental eyes, playing tag and hiding in the decorative bushes, activities that were forbidden on the other 364 days of the year.
I first fell in love with this small town northwest of Austin, Texas because of its location in the rolling oak- and cactus-covered hills, second, because of its climate - low humidity and moderate winters (summers are NOT moderate!), and third, because of its small-town traditions, like the tree lighting. There weren't many of those in my Houston suburb childhood. A Little League parade or two...the Halloween carnival...the Pasadena Fair and Rodeo...those were fun, but the area was already so populated that it didn't have the same neighborly feeling. At these tree lightings, you pretty much knew everyone else...you felt safe letting your kids disappear from your sight into the crowd or even the darkness, knowing other caring, concerned eyes were watching them.
Two, maybe three years ago, the tall pine tree died. The 'event' was moved indoors. Needless to say, it's not the same. I went last night - Kendall was playing with the high school band. There was Christmas music, a countdown, and a large (artificial) tree suddenly bursting with light - inside. Outside, there was still hot chocolate and cookies, still familiar faces that I was glad to see, still kids running around, chasing each other in the dark- but Kendall and I didn't hang around long enough to see Santa arrive. For the young kids and parents, new memories were etched, but we'll just hang on to our worn, blurry, patchwork memories of Christmas Tree Lightings past.