Christmastime has arrived in Smithfield.
This past Thursday, Santa Claus lit the town’s Christmas tree at the corner of Third and Market streets, beckining good cheer with music and laughter. The weather was warm and humid, which Santa didn’t seem to mind.
Hosted by the Parks and Recreation Department and Downtown Smithfield Development Corp., the tree lighting included music from local choirs and bands and a “Cake Dive.” About 400 people attended.
“It’s a great community event that brings lots of different people together .... reminding them of the spirit of the season and showcasing what a great downtown we have,” said Sarah Edwards, interim director of the Downtown Development Corp.
Catherine Webster of Smithfield came with her children and ran into other kids from their daycare group. The children ran around playing while groups performed Christmas songs.
“I have small children, and they like tree lights,” Webster said. The location is important too. “You don’t worry so much about them being late to bedtime because it’s a hop, skip and a jump from home,” she said.
Sue Booth of Smithfield, a member of Temple Baptist Church in Smithfield, came to hear her church’s choir perform. She attended the tree lighting more often when her children were young; they were always excited to see Santa and the Christmas lights. “It was just a bonding time for the whole family,” Booth said.
Before Santa arrived to light the tree, people competed in a “Cake Dive.” Attendees could vote for their favorite downtown storefront, which gave them a chance to compete in the cake-eating contest.
Ten randomly-selected people lined up in front of 10 small cakes. Nine cakes had a small present box inside with a number signifying a prize. The grand prize cake didn’t have a box. People had to eat the cake to find the prize. The catch? They couldn’t use their hands, only their mouths.
In the case of grand-prize winner, Banks Gaskins, 7, he used his whole face.
The Ham & Yam queens then escorted Santa to the tree as the crowd sang Christmas carols. He lit the tree to cheers from the audience; children could then wait in line to sit on his lap and ask for Christmas presents.
The tree lighting cost about $500 to stage, Edwards said. Many businesses also donated prizes, she said. The event has been going on for about 20 years.
Edwards said the tree lighting is a way to remind people to support local businesses throughout the year. “The businesses that we have downtown are those that keep the dollars local for the rest of the year, so that’s a big part of it,” she said.
Emily Ray, a ninth-grader at at Corinth Holders High School, came to the tree lighting to hear her mom sing in a choir. “It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “I get to hang out with people I don’t normally see because they’re so far away.”
The event is also a chance to enjoy different styles of music, she said. The music ranged from an energetic gospel choir to the classic, calming Christmas carol, and even included a saxophone group performance.
Tashara Young of Selma came to the tree lighting with her family to hear her church perform. “It’s an event for kids, adults, everybody,” she said.