One of the highlights of the season for Culver City is the holiday celebration of ‘lighting the tree,’ which not only changed this year, but truly opened up a whole new era. In the past, there were two ‘lighting’ ceremonies; one at the Vets Building, with Parks and Rec classes performing, and the tree-shaped lights on the tower; the other, in the Downtown Culver City Plaza with a tall evergreen and a chorus or two from CCUSD school choirs.
Last night, Dec, 5, 2019, was a combination of these two long standing events, a debut for the Culver Steps as a civic stage, and a whole new element added in – a sled run with real snow.
It was a moment just slightly more than magical. As the dusk was falling and the crowd beginning to gather, the program began with El Marino’s famous Taiko Drummers, introduced by the unmistakable Mike Cohen, the Master of Ceremonies.
Blending the two tree lightings meant that kids from the Parks and Rec programs performed in sequence with school choirs, Ballet Folklorico, and the Academy of Visual and Performing Arts.
A step to the podium by Downtown Business Association President Darrel Menthe began the next part of the program, with Menthe offering his thanks to the all those hosting the evening; the Culver City Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department, the Downtown Business Association, the Culver Steps and the Culver Hotel.
Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager exhorted the crowd to remember the holidays by being kind and helpful, and when Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells took to the stage accompanied by her fellow city council members, there were cheers all around.
“Do you all know what this used to be?” The mayor asked the crowd, “A parking lot! And that part over there – that was a road. This is what you can have when you prioritize people over cars. A place to play! ”
With the power on and the tree lit in white, there were three places to go – the tables hosting cookies and cocoa, the line for the sled run, and of course, the wait to see Santa. Music continued from the stage with the AVPA Jazz Combo, and the plaza filled with people enjoying the mild evening, the holiday atmosphere, and the spirit of the season.
What made it all just slightly more than magical was bringing the two tree lighting events together, and presenting it as a debut moment for the plaza. The years of planning and construction truly paid off, and the investment in a pedestrian space downtown felt like real riches. Many of the families with small children played games that were stacked at the picnic tables and set up lawn-style between the Steps and the gate to Culver Studios. This is a plaza that will set the stage for a good, long time.
It was as Christmas as a Capra movie, and walking away down the crowded sidewalks, there were jingle bells jingling somewhere nearby.