Call me old fashioned, but I when I hear “tree lighting” I think of a tree (preferably a large evergreen of some kind) with lights on it (preferably in strands that wrap around the tree branches). It probably stems from growing up in Sedro-Woolley which has forever placed a large tree in the center of a downtown intersection during the holidays. The tree becomes the center of much conversation in town. The talk goes splits pretty cleanly into two groups: 1) “Have you seen that tree? That is the sadest tree we’ve ever had.” and 2) “Have you seen that tree? That is the nicest tree we’ve ever had.”. Nothing in the middle. It is either awful or wonderful. Either way it is a real tree and special. I remember the year they placed the tree in a corner lot rather than in the center of the intersection. I don’t think they’ll do that again.
In Austin the big tree lighting isn’t a tree at all. Rather it is a lot of lights strung from the Moonlight tower in Zilker park. The Moonlight towers in Austin are actually historic landmarks. They were the first of their kind and only a handful remain anywhere. You can read more about them here. All told the cone of lights extends 155 feet high and 180 feet in diameter. That’s a big “tree”.
We crowded around underneath the lights with a few thousand of our closest neighbors and waited through the normal slew of speaches from local officials. None of which we could hear because they had the requisite poorly setup and inadequate sound system. It makes it hard to enjoy, or even endure, the talks when you can’t hear them at all. And frankly the mayor isn’t much of a mime.
Then we had a nice little elementary school chorus treat us to a few holiday tunes. At least they were loud enough to hear and actually sounded pretty good. Good for 8 year olds anyway. They sang a few songs and then a few more. The limit for this kind of thing should be set at 3 songs. No more. The first song makes you think “Oh, how sweet”. The second song makes you think “Hmm…not too bad”. And the third song makes you think “Okay. Get on with it already”. By song six the crowd was getting restless and I guarantee they weren’t thinking happy thoughts about that group of third graders. Had they gone on to song seven or eight I think 2007 might be remembered as the year of the great Zilker Tree Lighting Riot.
When the tree was finally lit it was pretty neat. Of course from underneath it doesn’t look anything like a tree, but still cool. We engaged in the local tradition of looking up and spinning around. Fun. I imagine it is totally trippy if you are under the influence. Wesley enjoyed the spinning, but really he always enjoys a good spin.
Next we are going to hit the Trail of Lights. A mile plus long display of Christmas lights that brings in about 400,000 people a year. I think Wesley and Jillian will both really enjoy it. Staring at pretty lights is something they both have in common.