Holiday spirit shines on Spanish Springs

Angelina Santoro-Thomas, age 10 months, and mom Inga Santoro meet Santa and Mrs. Claus at the Tree Lighting Festival in Spanish Springs.

Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived at the Tree Lighting Festival not in a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer, but a golf cart powered by electricity. The famous couple took their seats to get some socially distant pictures with the people throughout the evening Tuesday at Spanish Springs Town Square. Later in the night, they helped turn on the lights on the Christmas tree. “It’s very electric,” Santa quipped earlier. They enjoyed the first festival at Lake Sumter Landing Market Square, and they look forward to participating in the event Friday at Brownwood Paddock Square. “It’s amazing to see how everyone comes together to see the tree,” Mrs. Claus said. “The Christmas spirit has never been stronger,” Santa said. “The weather has been perfect.” Said Mrs. Claus: “It’s a nice change from the North Pole.” The young and young at heart enjoyed a variety of acts and activities throughout the evening. About 12 members of Clown Alley 179 set up shop to make objects out of balloons and paint some faces. Leslie “Curlee” Ward was part of the balloon brigade; her favorite items to form are hats. “I’m full of hot air,” said Ward, of the Village of Country Club Hills. “You can get creative (with the hats). I love it every year. Everybody’s in such a good mood.” Richard Godin arrived early to get a few seats near the waterfall. He wore a Santa hat, which with his white beard brought up a few comments from passersby. “I got two to three already,” said Godin, who lives in Stonecrest. “I should’ve let my beard grow longer.” Snow shot out during The Villages Twirlers and Drum Corps’ set as they moved to “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” They then twirled and drummed to “JIngle Bell Rock” and “Sleigh Ride,” among others. The Original Villages Belly Dancers moved to songs like “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” “It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas,” and “Jingle Bells.” Scooter the DJ set up his familiar photo booth for people to get a commemorative picture of the event, which included a border featuring the Classic Christmas theme. They also could use some of the many silly holiday props in the picture. “This could be (the photo they use for) their Christmas card, or they’ll put it on the fridge,” Scooter said. “The kids really love it.” Scooter has brought the photo booth to the Tree Lighting Festivals for about three years. “This gets me in the mood for Christmas,” he said. “This is the best possible push to get you there.” Rocky and the Rollers kept things rocking throughout the night at the Gazebo; the band has made numerous appearances at the Tree Lighting Festival through the years. “It’s very emotional,” said Gerry “Rocky” Seader, the group’s leader and drummer. “It’s the camaraderie between all the Villagers and the people. We hope everybody has a good holiday season.”

Staff Writer Michael Fortuna can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5273, or