From the time I woke up at 4 a.m. Saturday morning realizing I'd forgotten to write a script for the emcee for the Columbia County Christmas tree lighting, until the event started with Santa's arrival via Martinez Fire truck more than 12 hours later, I was difficult to live with.
So as I hand out the annual thanks to all the folks who help us light Columbia County's official Christmas tree, first on the list has to be my wife. As she put up with my racing mind, short temper and erratic attention span, I told her I felt like a bag of skin with a little man spinning inside.
The dervish slowed down once the vendors started setting up and the Vineyard Church band began warming up. And when the grounds of the Columbia County Justice Center filled with hundreds of people to celebrate what is really such a small ritual -- turning on lights decorating an evergreen tree -- the spinning turned to grinning.
We've been lighting this tree now for four years. It's become a cliche to say it gets better every year, but it really has. The tree lighting is my favorite Columbia County event of the year, and not just because it was my idea -- it's because hundreds of people come together for a couple of hours just to celebrate the joy of the Christmas season.
With it, free of charge, comes official membership in a community of good people, one of whom is my long-suffering bride who understands how important it all is, and who welcomes me back when the high-strung man inside relaxes.
So to Michelle, thanks.
The rest of the people on the list aren't quite as important to me personally, but they're certainly VIPs. The county's special events coordinator, Stacie Adkins, is a real treasure. So is Tony Temple, who runs the county's maintenance shop and not only puts the lights on the tree, but makes sure they'll turn on. To both of them, thank you.
This year's event was much improved thanks to input and effort from Niki Chambers, South Columbia Elementary School's music teacher. She ran the children's Mass Chorus flawlessly, with help from North Columbia Elementary's Erin Dibling - who also she'll sing the national anthem at next year's tree-lighting. Thanks, also, to all the children whose beautiful voices filled the courthouse square.
Reese LeRoy and the Vineyard Church also stepped up their assistance this year. The church's talented praise band entertained the crowd, while church volunteers handed out free hot chocolate, just like last year. The difference was that this year, the band played longer to fill what would have been an empty slot left when another local church choir left us hanging.
Thanks to Charlie Beale and Steve Jones and the Rec Department staff, to the Sheriff's Office and to the Martinez Fire Department. Thanks to County Commission Chairman Ron Cross, and to emcee Jennie Montgomery of WJBF-TV 6.
Thanks to Rev. Roger Vest of Harlem United Methodist Church for his invocation, to Tami Flowers of Martinez Elementary for singing the National Anthem, to Capt. Bobby Christine and his children for leading the Pledge of Allegiance and to the Greenbrier High School JROTC for raising the flag.
And special thanks to the Greenbrier girls state-champion softball team for serving as Santa's elves and helping, along with Olympian Reese Hoffa, to light the tree.
Thanks, most of all, to the citizens of Columbia County. It is impossible to tell everyone how much I enjoy this event, and how wonderful it is to help bring it to the community. We often say we'd enjoy it even if no one showed up and all we did was plug the tree in; how much better it is that hundreds of my fellow Columbia Countians help us do so.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times and co-chairman of the Christmas in America Committee. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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