Holiday tree lighting 'brings Detroiters together'

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Maybe it was the frosty air, Yuletide-themed songs or, in the center of Campus Martius Park, a 60-foot Norway spruce adorned with glittering orbs. But on Friday night, less than a week before Thanksgiving, Pat Dockery and her family were ready for Christmas.

Standing among nearly 40,000 people at the 16th annual Detroit Tree Lighting Ceremony, they couldn’t help but feel in the mood.

“It’s a wonderful experience and it just gets everybody in the spirit of Christmas,” the Detroiter said as her two young grandsons navigated the crowd. “It brings Detroiters together, where people have something to smile about.”

Merriment was on tap for many who braved wintry temperatures to join the festivities coordinated by the Downtown Detroit Partnership and DTE Foundation.

The throngs of guests warding off the chill in thick coats, colorful scarves, wool mittens and even sparkly earmuffs found plenty to celebrate and capture their attention.

The Michigan-grown, 60 foot tall Norway Spruce comes alive with 19,000 multi-colored LED lights as the crowd cheers. 16th Annual Detroit Tree Lighting in Campus Martius Park in Detroit, Michigan on November 22, 2019.

Ringing the downtown venue were warming stations, food trucks and vendors doling out chili cheese fries, hot chocolate and other treats. Children also had the chance to take photos with costumed mascots.

The scene was enough to hearten Jenea Sylvester, who was visiting from Charlotte, North Carolina. She and her relatives paused their trek outside the main stage to snap pictures with a silvery column shaped like a Christmas ornament as a backdrop.

“We like coming to see all the lights,” she said. “The kids love it.”

Earlier, hundreds counted down as a giant red kettle was illuminated as part of the Salvation Army's annual fundraising campaign.

Activities also filled Beacon Park, about 10 minutes north, where Santa appeared near a "Children's Tree" that displayed about 8,000 holiday lights, organizers said.

At Campus Martius, to warm up for the tree lighting, the audience marveled at performances from acts such as Grammy-nominated Michigan native Mayer Hawthorne and the Detroit Youth Choir, which earned renown this year through a stint on “America’s Got Talent.”

American bronze medal Olympian Mirai Nagasu takes to the ice at Campus Martius.

The ice rink surrounded by snowflake-shaped lights also welcomed Yuka Sato, the world champion figure skater and two-time Olympian, and Mirai Nagasu, the first female American figure skater to land a triple axel in the Winter Olympics.

“This is an unbelievable gathering here tonight,” said Robert Gregory, the chief public spaces officer for the Downtown Detroit Partnership.

But for many, the centerpiece was counting down to the moment the soaring tree atop the Woodward Fountain would be illuminated.

As the mercury hovered near the freezing mark, cheers erupted when flashes of red, blue, emerald and gold from an estimated 19,000 LED lights framed the skyline.

Once a rendition of “Joy to the World” finished, some attendees assembled beside the spruce, which had box-shaped "gifts" under it, to take selfies. 

Though the teeth-chattering conditions proved tiring for her grandchildren as the evening wore on, Dockery was happy they joined the revelry.

“It’s a tradition,” she said.