One of my more difficult decisions in recent weeks will probably seem trivial to most people.
I'm not talking about elections. Picking candidates was easy. I had to decide whether it was OK to have the county's Christmas tree lighting at a different location.
The decision wasn't all mine; the county folks who help out with the Christmas in America celebration had a lot to do with it, too. But this event is my baby.
Seven years ago, then-County Commission Chairman Jim Whitehead and I made a deal: If I'd help him put together a Memorial Day celebration, he'd help me start a Christmas-tree lighting ceremony.
In 2001, then, we held the first Red, White and Blue Veterans Celebration on Doctors Hospital Field - now owned by the county and called Town Center Park.
Four months later came the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Three months afterward, what otherwise would have been a Christmas celebration with the usual secular-and-sacred mix instead took on a patriotic tone.
Thus, Christmas in America was born.
For that first tree-lighting, we bought nice, bright lights, in expectation of the gigantic tree we planned to erect on the grounds of the Government Complex.
The tree we got was anemic. Some clever guys from the county's maintenance shop built a plywood box to sit it on, raising it 4 feet off the ground, but it still looked puny. We put so many lights on it we thought it would collapse, and draped the rest across nearby shrubbery.
But we had a blast.
The next year was a little better; the county agreed to plant a live tree at the corner of the new courthouse, and the celebration took on a grander tone.
The event has done well since then, even though the courthouse grounds were sometimes an awkward fit for the huge crowd. With the county's amphitheater now finished, the natural choice was to move.
But that meant two things: Leaving behind the tree that had been donated, and later rescued from ice damage, by landscaper George Fuller III; and, taking the event where the lights wouldn't be as visible to those traveling through Evans.
When Fuller agreed to plant a new tree at the site, that cinched it. We're getting even more lights this year, thanks again to generous community donations, and will make the park glow with Christmas cheer.
A couple of semi-nostalgic side notes: One of the ideas we started with the first tree-lighting was the Columbia County Elementary Schools Mass Chorus. Children in elementary schools all over the county learn the same songs, and then come together in numbers approaching 500 voices. It is truly amazing.
The music teacher leading the chorus this year is Stevens Creek Elementary's Robin Chaly - who, incidentally, led the group in its first year.
Also, giving the invocation is the Rev. Randy Monk, leader of the newly created Covenant United Methodist Church. The last new Methodist church "plant" in Columbia County was Mosaic UMC; its pastor, Carolyn Moore, gave the invocation at the second tree-lighting in 2002.
We'll light the tree this year on Dec. 2. Santa arrives at 4:30 p.m.; the Lakeside High School Jazz Ensemble performs at 5 p.m., and the ceremonies will begin at 5:30 p.m. We'll light up the new tree at 6:30 p.m., and the Vineyard Church band will play for the rest of the evening. Vendors will be available all afternoon.
Why do we do all this? Because we should. Christmas is a wonderful Christian observance; our celebration also is unabashedly American.
Moving to the amphitheater was a tough decision, but I'm sure it was a good one. Be there on Dec. 2 and let me know if you agree.
Happy Thanksgiving - and merry Christmas.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.
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