It has become a tradition for many resident performing groups: the chance to ring in the holiday season at one of The Villages’ three Tree Lighting Festivals on the town squares. The Sweet and Sassy line dance team, which has been a part of the event for more than a decade, started working on its program in June.
“We’re ready to go and perform,” group leader Faith Schnell said. “We’ve always enjoyed it. Their spirits are so high during the Christmas season.”
Over a span of several days, each of the three 35-foot trees on the town squares will burst to life with Christmas joy. Spanish Springs Town Square is the first to have its tree all aglow, with the Classic Christmas Tree Lighting Festival scheduled for Saturday.
Two days later, Brownwood Paddock Square will host the Sugar Plum Tree Lighting Festival on Nov. 30.
Rounding out the holiday tradition on Dec. 2 is the
Coastal Tree Lighting Festival at Lake Sumter Landing Market Square. All three events, which are presented by The Villages Entertainment, will run 4-9 p.m.
“The tree lighting is a great opportunity to bring people out safely and have the opportunity to kick off the holiday season with our tree lighting festival in a safe environment,” said Chalsi Cox, special events manager for The Villages Entertainment.
Just as with the nightly entertainment, a limited number of people will be allowed into the square area for the festivities. They must provide their own chair.
Attendance is first come, first served.
Those who are admitted will enter Spanish Springs Town Square from the side across from MVP; Lake Sumter Landing near the fountain on Lake Shore Drive; and Brownwood in between the bar huts along Brownwood Boulevard.
Hand-washing and sanitizer stations will be available at various spots on the squares. Those attending are asked to wear masks.
The tree-lighting ceremonies will begin at around 7:45 p.m., with Billie Thatcher leading the audience in a sing-along and a countdown. Joining her during the ceremonies at Lake Sumter Landing and Brownwood will be the Christmas Tenors, while the Local Vocals will sing during the Spanish Springs ceremony.
Each event will spotlight a different charity. The Spanish Springs organization is the Children’s Advocacy Center. The Sumter County Sheriff’s Office will hold a toy drive at Lake Sumter Landing, and representatives from Ronald McDonald House Charities of North Central Florida will be at Brownwood collecting toys.
Several resident groups will get people into the holiday spirit with their programs throughout the night.
At Spanish Springs, The Villages Cheerleaders, the Original Villages Belly Dancers and Sounds of Scotland will perform.
At Brownwood, expect to see Aloha ‘O Ka Hula, Sugar and Spice, the Silver Rockettes and the Prime Time Twirlers.
At Lake Sumter Landing, Sweet and Sassy, Aloha ‘O Ka Hula, The Villages Twirlers and Drum Corps and Mystic Jewels will perform.
Sweet and Sassy will dance to a montage of eight holiday tunes.
“Christmas is a big event for us,” said Schnell, of the Village of St. James. “There are so many songs to pick from. It’s just a fun performance.”
Leading the music at each square are Blue Stone Circle at Spanish Springs, Scooter the DJ at Brownwood, and Rocky and the Rollers at Lake Sumter Landing.
Members of Clown Alley 179 will wander around the squares to bring a few laughs into the people’s lives.
For the second year, the entertainment department will have tree trails at each festival, during which 10 trees will be festooned with that particular square’s theme.
Along the trail, expect to find a tent where Santa and Mrs. Claus will be on hand to offer socially distanced greetings.
Residents can get their pictures taken at Scooter the DJ’s photo booth, and they can drop off donations for the respective charity.
Spanish Springs will have a Victorian town display, and Brownwood will have a gingerbread town display.
At Lake Sumter Landing, the Yesteryear Cart Club will have some of its carts on display and will help out with the collection of toy donations.
At Santa’s Sweetery, 5% of sales will go to that particular charity being spotlighted on the square.
Attendees also can partake from a specialty bar offering holiday brews and purchase some Christmas gifts from holiday market vendors.
“It will be more of an experience,” Cox said.
Staff Writer Michael Fortuna can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5273, or firstname.lastname@example.org.