Thousands turn out for Christmas tree lighting

The 23rd annual event was held Saturday in Abbotsford's downtown core.

Santa and Mrs. Claus were a big hit with the crowd during the 23rd annual Christmas Tree Lighting in downtown Abbotsford.

Santa and Mrs. Claus were a big hit with the crowd during the 23rd annual Christmas Tree Lighting in downtown Abbotsford.

Choirs sang, children whispered requests into Santa’s ear, and a giant tree lit up the downtown core – Christmas has come to Abbotsford.

An estimated crowd of between 4,000 and 5,000 people attended the 23rd annual tree lighting celebration on Sunday and organizers say it is one of the biggest turn-outs in recent years.

The festivities included performances on the community stage, free cookies and hot chocolate, kids’ crafts, Santa’s arrival, and the ceremonial lighting of the tree, complete with new decorations.

“The tree is lit,” said Tina Stewart, executive director of the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association, which organizes and runs the celebration.

“It went fantastic. Everything went nice and smooth, the tree lit perfectly and everybody seemed happy.”

While attendance at the event is always a “guess-timate,” Stewart said it continues to grow.

“We had about 4,000 people last year and I’d say there were more than last year, it was definitely shoulder to shoulder.”

The increased crowds could be due in part to a change made three years ago. The tree lighting had historically been held on a Friday evening. However, in 2009, the decision was made to host it on a Sunday afternoon.

“It has definitely been a positive change. It just seems to work better for families.”

Stewart said by the time family members finished work at the end of the week, they had difficulty making time for the event on a Friday night.

This year’s version of the big tree has a new look. Along with the lights, several giant snowflakes have been added.

“They’re huge and they’re beautiful and we really love that,” said Stewart.

Other highlights included the kids’ free craft tent which Stewart said was a “big hit” and will return again next year. She also noted that the crowd cheered when Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman took to the stage to perform the Grinch song.

“It’s free fun for the family – that’s what we really like about our event.”

Among the activities was a fundraising event called a puzzle walk. For a small donation, participants could collect puzzle pieces from participating merchants for a chance to win a gift basket. The walk raised $400 for Matthew’s House, a respite facility for children with severe disabilities. It is currently under construction as part of the Campus of Care, located next to Abbotsford Regional Hospital.

The Christmas tree is at the corner of Essendene Avenue and Railway Street.