Holiday spirit shines in Grand Illumination

Published 10:18 pm Monday, November 25, 2019

Crowds gathered around the 32-foot-tall Christmas tree at downtown’s Market Park Friday night, with only a slight breeze in the air for the 2019 Suffolk Grand Illumination Ceremony.

The night air was cool, refreshing and festive, and after remarks from Mayor Linda T. Johnson, the children stood on the stage with her to watch the Christmas tree light up in a bright, warm spectacle of Christmas lights and ornaments red and gold.

“I like how it’s tall and decorated,” said 11-year-old Taylor Bradshaw, getting a closer look at the Christmas tree with her family.

The Grand Illumination Ceremony is the official start of the holiday season in Suffolk. Crowds come out each year to Market Park and the Suffolk Seaboard Station Railroad Museum on North Main Street for good cheer and fun activities together.

“It’s a pretty good sense of community,” said Cody McMahan, Taylor Bradshaw’s uncle, who comes to most of these events with his family, “and it sort of gives the kids something to look forward to. Sort of a Suffolk tradition, which is nice.”

Families enjoyed coffee and hot chocolate, candy apples, and other delicious treats from vendors. They bought Christmas gifts from vendors, as well, and got photos in front of the Christmas tree and Virginia LOVE sign.

Parents waited to have their group names — like Candy Canes, Dancing Elves and Fuzzy Mittens — called for their children to meet Mr. and Mrs. Claus inside the museum. The Claus family welcomed each child with big smiles and heard each of their Christmas wishes.

Sterling Pope-McDaniel, 4, asked Santa for a “ginormous” Emily toy train from the show “Thomas & Friends.” Tiffani Pope said her son had a wonderful time meeting Santa on Friday, like always.

“He loves meeting Santa. He’s never been scared of him. Last year, he actually ran to him,” Pope said.

Families took horse-drawn carriages rides up and down Prentis Street. Children laughed to the jolly music of the “Night Before Christmas” puppet show, performed by Mickey Rooney and the Rainbow Puppets in one of the heated tents.

The other heated tent at Market Park was filled with children who made Christmas ornaments with wire and beads for their trees at home, with all the materials provided by the Suffolk Art Gallery.

Overall, it was a busy, wonderful start to the holiday season in Suffolk.

“It’s going very well,” said Chelsea Price, special events coordinator for Suffolk Parks and Recreation. “It’s beautiful weather, and it’s a great turnout, and people seem to really be enjoying the activities.”

Price said the event is meant to bring people together to celebrate the holidays, and that message of togetherness was shared in Mayor Johnson’s remarks Friday night.

“As we celebrate Thanksgiving next week, and the joys of Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa in the weeks to come, let’s remember (that) the holiday season is a perfect time to reflect on everything that we have in Suffolk that are blessings,” Johnson said. “There’s so many blessings for so many in this city.

“But let us also remember and seek out those that have less than we do, and those who have difficult times, and make their times a little more special. Let’s try to make life around us just a little bit better for everyone.”