Tree lighting finale is merry and bright

A vessel carrying Santa Claus is part of the boat parade at sunset during Thursday night’s Coastal Christmas celebration at Lake Sumter Landing. It was The Villages’ final Tree Lighting Festival this year.

It was barely past 4 p.m. but a high-spirited group of dancers already was grooving to the rock ’n’ roll sounds of Johnny Wild & The Delights at Lake Sumter Landing Market Square. Thursday’s Coastal Christmas at Lake Sumter Landing was the third and final Tree Lighting Festival to take place in The Villages this year. Aside from the huge Christmas tree that lit up around 8 p.m., the event was highlighted by a sundown boat parade presented by The Villages Recreation and Parks Department. The parade featured nine vessels adorned in Christmas lights, and one special boat ushered in Santa Claus to mingle with the celebrating crowd.

The evening also featured a projector light show and performances by line dance team Sweet & Sassy, The Villages Cheerleaders, The Villages Twirlers and Drum Corps and the Silver Rockettes.

Before the stage came alive, 4-year-old William Daniel Morrison III waited for Johnny Wild & The Delights to kick off the evening while he snacked on candy that he’d picked up from a vendor at the festival. 

Village of Chatham resident Sandra Wilson had invited her sister’s family, along with great-nephew William, to the festival to show them what Christmas in The Villages was all about.

William kept glancing toward the stage in anticipation.

“He loves music,” said grandmother Patt Morrison, of Miami. “He loves to dance.”

Dick and Mary Merkling had never missed a tree lighting at Spanish Springs Town Square in the 18 years they have lived in The Villages, but a Thanksgiving trip to Atlanta kept the Village of Woodbury couple from attending this year. Thankfully, they could look forward to Lake Sumter’s Coastal Christmas, where they knew they’d run into friends.

Each year, they enjoy seeing what the festival vendors are offering and anticipate the performances.

“We just love the music,” Mary said.

Debbie and Rocky Hyder typically go to only one square’s tree lighting festival each year. But since becoming permanent residents of The Villages in April, the Village De La Vista residents made the decision to attend all three squares’ festivals.

What they discovered is that each has a distinct ambience.

“At the Brownwood (Paddock Square) one, the thing that impressed us most was the projection light show off of the roof of the porch,” Rocky said. “But the nostalgia and traditional part of the Spanish Springs (Town Square festival) felt a lot like Christmas.”

They weren’t quite sure what to expect with Lake Sumter’s Coastal Christmas, especially with the boat parade. But Debbie was impressed.

“It was beautiful,” she said. “I love the lights, and I love boats.”

Rocky said they’ve never had a chance to be on the water during Christmas, so being a part of the festivities on Lake Sumter was a new experience.

“People like to kick of the Christmas season with all the fanfare,” Rocky said. “That’s one of the fun things about being a Villager.”

Staff Writer Julie Butterfield can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5254, or