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Christmas tree ceremony flips the switch on the holiday season

Posted on December 5th, 2023 By:

An estimated crowd of more than 4,000 helped kick off the 2023 holiday season over the weekend at the annual Gig Harbor Tree Lighting in Skansie Brothers Park.

A furry green pot-bellied critter named Grinch was the first of several notable characters to make an appearance at the event. According to Gig Harbor Police, there were no reports of theft (or cynicism) by the Grinch, despite the widely held belief that his heart is “two sizes too small.”

Olsen and Ava Anderson flip the switch to turn on the Gig Harbor Christmas tree on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. Photo by Julie Warrick Ammann

Accompanied by Cindy Lou Who, from the whimsical and colorful land of Whoville, the Grinch, and Cindy posed for photos with children and grownups of all ages. Mayor Tracie Markley presided over the festivities and introduced the event headliner, Santa, and Mrs. Claus.

Special delivery

With his big delivery just weeks away, Santa opted to rest his reindeer and carpool to the event. The white-bearded toy and joy expert rode shotgun in a classic red fire truck. A dazzling display of lights cast a warm glow over the sea of onlookers, some hoisted up on shoulders, all hoping to get a glimpse of the man they have been working so hard to impress all year long.

At the center of the park and the buzzing crowd was a specially delivered Christmas tree grown at Batstone Hill Farm in Shelton.

Previously, Gig Harbor relied on trees from the Joint Base Lewis-McChord. But the base had no trees available this year, so the city of Gig Harbor’s public works team got busy. The Anderson family of Gig Harbor connected the city to Batstone Hill Farm who offered up a tree. The majestic noble Fir is now adorned with thousands of multi-colored lights, while at its base, a menorah and nativity scene add to the festive display.

The Andersons — mom Chelsey, son Olsen, daughter Ava and dad John — with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Photo by Julie Warrick Ammann

Flipping the switch

The Anderson family children, 7-year-old Ava and 10-year-old Olsen, had the honor of flipping the switch and illuminating the Christmas tree. John and Chelsey Anderson beamed with enthusiasm as they watched their children flip the wooden handle upward, electrifying the thousands of sparkling lights.

Live Christmas music was provided by the Tinsel Tunes Band. Conducted by Becky Sharrett, the group comprises members from both the local community and the Peninsula Military Band. Mayor Tracie Markley guided the audience in Christmas carols and revealed that she can add “singer” to her mayoral job description as she shared her her vocal prowess with the community.

The fully lit Christmas tree at Skansie Park in Gig Harbor on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. Photo by Julie Warrick Ammann

Christmas traditions

While Santa’s reindeer convalesced at the North Pole, the Tacoma Rainier’s “Rhubarb the Reindeer” delighted children with animated greetings and photo ops.

Children and their families patiently queued up to take turns sitting on Santa’s lap, located within a wooden shelter by the water’s edge.

The event also included craft vendors, cookies, and cocoa. Santa also has a message to all the boys and girls. A bright red “Letters for Santa” mailbox is located under the shelter in Skansie Park. All letters dropped off in this box will be answered as long as a legible return address is included with the Santa letter. It is believed that the North Pole has a satellite office in Gig Harbor to support some of Santa’s many administrative duties.

From left, Cindy Lou Who (Cindy Andrews), Mayor Tracie Markley and the Grinch (Steve Andrews) at the 2023 Gig Harbor Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. Photo by Julie Warrick Ammann

As the evening neared its end, someone made one final song request: “Silent Night.”

Silent, it was not. Children bounced, squirmed, danced, and sang loudly for all to hear. Christmas and the holidays were here.

“But the sound wasn’t sad! Why, this sounded merry! It couldn’t be so! But it WAS merry! Very!” — How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss