Tree-lighting event draws crowd to downtown Detroit

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Campus Martius Park was the place to be Friday night for an early start to the holiday season.

The downtown Detroit destination hummed with activity as thousands of people flocked to the 12th annual Detroit Tree Lighting Ceremony, taking in all the sights and sounds.

Families, bundled up in coats and hats to ward off the cold, walked past bare trees wrapped in bright lights, snapping pictures beneath the glittering skyline. Couples strolled around food trucks, a booth offering bubbles, even officers on horseback.

A large audience circled the ice rink, eagerly eyeing costumed skaters twirling and spinning to Christmas-themed songs near a sizable snowman decoration.

But many were there waiting for the main event: the illumination of the 60-foot-tall, Michigan-grown Norway spruce adorned with more than 19,000 twinkling, energy-efficient, multicolored LED lights.

“It’s beautiful,” said Tammy Gamble of Redford Township as she watched the activities with her three children, wrapped in blankets. “It gets you in the holiday spirit.”

That idea boosted the festivities Friday night, which centered around the Christmas tree rising above the Woodward Fountain.

The traditional symbol of the season was presented by the DTE Energy Foundation as an annual gift to the city.

“The tree lighting has become a wonderful tradition in Detroit and a way that we show our appreciation to the communities we serve, helping thousands of families create memories that will last a lifetime,” said Faye Nelson, vice president, public affairs at DTE Energy and president of the DTE Energy Foundation.

After performances by the Four Tops and six-time U.S. national men’s skating champion Todd Eldredge, the throng of well-wishers roared when the towering tree blazed with red, blue, green and white lights.

“Every year, we see it light up,” said Reem Berri, 16, who stood nearby with her sister, uncle and cousin. “It’s very nice.”

Visitors beheld other marvels, as well.

Officials flipped a giant switch to turn on the Salvation Army’s 56-foot-tall, 24-foot-wide Red Kettle bearing 26,000 LED lights. That launched the group’s Red Kettle Campaign, which aims to fund more than 3 million meals and 730,000 nights of shelter as well as other services. This year’s goal is $8.7 million.

The night also drew appearances from “Santa,” horse-drawn carriage rides and other entertainment — all with the city as a backdrop.

“It’s just a huge night for Detroit,” said Robert Gregory, president of the Detroit 300 Conservancy, which helped produce the ceremony. “It’s a great time for Detroit to come together.”

The atmosphere lured Paul Rowse and Julie Gerstner of Harrison Township along with their four children.

The family loved “being a part of revival of the city again — the energy, the excitement,” Rowse said while watching the skaters on the rink.

Bathed in the glow of the lights, his wife beamed as she absorbed the scene. “It makes you love everything Detroit has to offer,” she said. “It’s great.”