Tree lightings offer holiday variety show

Garry Shideler, left, and Dominic Hess, of Hardscapes of Central Florida, decorate the Christmas tree in Spanish Springs Town Square. The Spanish Springs tree lighting is scheduled for Monday.

Shortly after Halloween, tall Christmas trees seem to spring up overnight on all three Villages town squares, garnished with red and gold decorations and the promise of special tree lighting festivals after Thanksgiving.  But while it might seem like it, it doesn’t all happen overnight. In fact, each tree lighting festival is the product of months of planning and preparation on behalf of The Villages Entertainment department. And this year, the special events staff decided to do something a little different. “Most everything is brand new this year,” said Beth Degan, special events assistant manager. “We are creating as we go. Each tree lighting will be totally different, from décor to entertainment.”

Each tree lighting festival will have its own theme — a sugar-plum Christmas on Saturday in Brownwood, a classic Christmas on Monday in Spanish Springs and a coastal Christmas on Thursday in Lake Sumter Landing.

Each event will take place from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., with the actual tree lighting happening at 8 p.m.

But let’s rewind a bit.

Months ago, the special events staff started mapping out each event, from decorations and entertainment to food trucks and scheduling law enforcement, commercial property management, special events staff and maintenance to work the events.

“We have to make sure all food trucks are able to handle the crowds, and that can be a challenge with the huge crowds we get with the tree lightings,” Degan said. “We walk the areas of the square to see how we can make an idea work.”

The special events staff also builds most of the décor, and it’s all hands on deck, Degan said.

“It usually takes us a full day to prep each square, and we sometimes work up until the hour before,” Degan said. “It’s a very huge undertaking.”

Hardscapes of Central Florida, a landscape and hardscape company located in Summerfield, provides the actual trees, and has for the last four years.

It takes a few days to prepare everything, according to Ben Hess, owner of the company.

Each tree is boxed up and loaded onto a truck, and they are assembled starting at 10 p.m. After the tree is up, they put on lights and decorations.

Hess has worked with The Villages for 22 years, and said he loves the opportunity to put up the trees.

“It’s a great feeling when we get to light them up,” he said. “It’s part of the heart of The Villages. They don’t have to put the trees up, but they do it because they love it, and I do it because I love it. It’s a really good thing. It’s another commitment The Villages made to make the lives of the residents even better.”

All three tree lighting festivals are free events with projector light shows and different entertainment.

In Brownwood, the live entertainment includes Blue Stone Circle, Prime Time Twirlers, Sugar ‘n Spice, the Sounds of Scotland and the Gemstone Dancers.

In Spanish Springs, the live entertainment includes the Cool Yule Band, Aloha O’ Ka Hula, Mystic Jewels Dance Troupe, the Original Villages Belly Dancers and The Villages Twirlers & Drum Corps.

In Lake Sumter Landing, the live entertainment includes Johnny Wild and the Delights, Sweet & Sassy, Silver Rockettes, The Villages Cheerleaders and The Villages Twirlers & Drum Corps.

While it’s a long process that includes a lot of work, planning and scheduling, it’s all worth it when the trees are lit, Degan said.

“The event itself is the icing on the cake,” Degan said. “Having satisfaction when someone compliments us, seeing residents smiling and having fun, watching our resident performers beaming with pride to be able to showcase their talents and knowing that everything in the end came together perfectly despite the pre-event jitters.”

It always works out in the end, Degan said.

“I hope the residents come out for all of the new entertainment and see the creativity the entertainment staff has come up with this year,” Degan said. “I think they will be very happy.”

Senior writer Kristen Fiore can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5270, or kristen.fiore@thevillagesmedia.com.