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How to Plan your Own Christmas Tree Lighting

christmas Nov 28, 2023

The first traditional Christmas Tree lighting I recall attending was in Princeton, NJ on the Friday after Thanksgiving in 1998. It was held in front of the Nassau Inn, an historic building from the days of our country’s founding. The high school choir sang Christmas carols on the steps of the inn and the culmination of the event was when Santa emerged to light the tree - a spectacular evergreen in the middle of the square. 

23 years later, I attended the Christmas Tree Lighting in Franklin, TN which was even more festive. Not only was a gorgeous tree lit in the heart of the charming town with thousands of people lining the streets and filling the shops, but the Christian artist leading the caroling on his guitar openly spoke of our need for Jesus, the baby in the manger. Coming from California, where Covid bullying was still rampant, masks were demanded in stores and no one could talk about Jesus at a public gathering, I was in awe, certain that I’d landed in a Hallmark movie.

I moved to Chattanooga, TN in 2022, and on my first Christmas, I could not find a tree lighting with Christmas carols. There were fun traditions like a lighted boat parade on the river, but not the traditional tree lighting I imagined. I felt sad until I realized one day that my large front lawn with its old magnolia tree roughly shaped like a pointed Christmas tree, might just be the venue for my dream. 

So I had a crazy idea to light it up to create a traditional, festive event for our friends and neighborhood. 

The large magnolia tree is about 50 feet tall so it took me a while to find someone to put the lights up for a reasonable price. 

I made invitations to text to people and put on mailboxes and designed songbooks with traditional carols both in Canva. Here's are the templates for the Book of Carols and the Invitation.

My son figured out the notes to each carol on his guitar and I asked a couple of friends with beautiful voices to lead the carols with me. 

I kept refreshments simple with staples from Trader Joe’s - apple cider, toffee, and mint star cookies. I brought a table outside and put out heated cider in large urns, paper coffee cups, festive napkins and the cookies, with a garbage can on the side.

We gathered adirondack chairs and benches and draped throw blankets on them. A solo stove burned with fresh logs to add ambience and warmth.

We sang the first hymn then counted down as a group until I plugged in the tree lights to shouts of “yay!” and “Ah!”. We sang the rest of the carols then mingled some more. 

As I held my phone to light up the written words and chords for my son as he played, I looked up at the crowd of precious people who had gathered. I listened as the words of those powerful Christmas hymns filled our hearts with the knowledge and love of the Lord. 

It was glorious! More than I could have imagined. It truly felt like Christmas. I can't post videos here but you can see more HERE.

It was a risk. It cost more than I thought to light up the house and tree. I didn’t know if it would work to put lights on the magnolia. I didn’t know if people would come or want a tree lighting as much as I did. I invited people I didn’t even know. I didn’t have anyone to lead caroling until the last minute. I was worried: Would people have fun? Would they feel comfortable? Etc…

I thought we might have a sweet gathering of 15 people but, by Friday, the text responses came pouring in, “Is it too late to come?” and we ended up with 60 family, friends, and neighbors, some of whom I had not met before.

I’m so glad I did it even with all the uncertainty. Something was driving me to make it happen. If you have an idea that feels really powerful - it’s probably more than your idea. I hoped and I believe the tree lighting was not just for me and I pray each night when that big tree, which can be seen from far off, is lit that it warms someone’s heart and reminds them of God’s love. 

So, would you plan a Christmas Tree lighting? Do you already have one near where you live? What are your favorite local traditions?