Holiday spirit shines at first tree lighting

Hundreds of people watch Saturday night as the Christmas tree lighting brightens Brownwood Paddock Square. It was the first of three tree lightings in The Villages, with events Monday at Spanish Springs Town Square and Thursday at Lake Sumter Landing Market Square.

Waiting can be the hardest part, especially when it’s time for the first of this year’s three Villages town square Christmas tree lightings. But after several hours of music, dancing, food and projector light shows, the large crowd that gathered in Brownwood Paddock Square got what it was waiting for. “So beautiful,” shouted one gentleman as the lights went on. “Wow,” said a young girl nearby. As the lights on the Brownwood tree came on, the crowd roared its approval, even if it did happen a minute or two early.

“So what if it came on early,” noted show emcee Billie Thatcher who, along with Santa and Mrs. Claus, were prepared to “turn on” the tree via a giant plug on the square’s stage. “Let’s count it down and plug in the tree regardless!”

The young and young at heart, all with visions of sugar plums dancing in their hands as part of a the sugar plum theme of the ceremony, counted down from 10 as the tree was finally “plugged in” to another roar.

The festivities began that afternoon with acts such as the Prime Time Twirlers, Sugar and Spice, the Gemstone Dancers and Blue Stone Circle taking the stage and square to entertain fans.

“Now this is what I call a crowd that has the Christmas spirit,” Blue Stone Circle vocalist Dave Dunde told the crowd, which responded with warm appreciation. “Let’s put you all in the holiday mood as we await the tree lighting.” The band then went into a rock rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

“There’s nothing like performing before a live crowd, especially one so enthusiastic like those in attendance at Brownwood,” said Dunde. “We appreciate The Villages and its community for keeping the spirit of live entertainment alive and kicking.”

The Sounds of Scotland also marched to the square to perform a medley of Scottish and Irish classics, as well as show off some holiday favorites like “The Little Drummer Boy” on bagpipes and drums.

Much of Brownwood Paddock Square was closed to traffic early Saturday morning, allowing Villagers, their families and others to explore the area, check out businesses and get a view of some of the pre-tree activities taking place.

And there was plenty to do around the square, which was transformed into an old-school county fair for the festivities. Villagers and others enjoyed plenty of dining options from food trucks serving such delicacies as macaroni and cheese to snow cones. Guests could also try their hands at winning prizes playing skee-ball.

Numerous vendors were selling their wares around the town square, offering everything from fruits and vegetables to wall art and wine corkscrews. The young and those young at heart could also get their faces painted and have caricatures drawn of themselves and others at separate tents.

Children of all ages enjoyed an area of their own on one side of the square, with games of cornhole, pop-shot basketball and Connect Four at their availability. And to cap it all off, kids young and mature could get their pictures taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

This year’s Brownwood Town Square tree is courtesy of Hardscapes of Central Florida, a Summerfield landscape and hardscape company that’s provided Christmas trees for The Villages squares for the last four years.

Two more tree lightings are scheduled for this week. Spanish Springs will hold a classic Christmas tree lighting on Monday, while Lake Sumter Landing marks a coastal Christmas Thursday. Both events are from 4-9 p.m., with the actual tree lightings happening at 8 p.m. All Villages tree lighting festivals are free events with projector light shows and different entertainment.

2019 TREE LIGHTINGS

Spanish Springs Classic Christmas:

4-9 p.m. Monday

Lake Sumter’s Coastal Christmas:

4-9 p.m. Thursday

Senior Writer James Dinan can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5302, or james.dinan@thevillagesmedia.com.