By MARY RAINWATER
Local officials and volunteers put one of the final touches on preparations for Saturday’s kickoff to the Christmas season Thursday — raising and decorating a 22-foot Virginia pine tree on the courthouse lawn.
The tree, located on the Church Street side of the courthouse, is part of a “lighting of the square” celebration that will take place following the City of Palestine’s annual Parade of Lights, which starts at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“The parade will end at the courthouse, where Santa will be dropped off at the courthouse steps and take his place there for pictures with the children,” PEDC Executive Director Wendy Ellis said. “There will be giveaways, games, food and entertainment.”
Thursday’s “tree raising” is a direct reflection of the many local entities — the City of Palestine, Anderson County, the Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce and the Palestine Economic Development Corp — that have united in hopes of making Palestine a Christmas destination.
“There are lots of people involved in this,” said Anderson County Judge Robert Johnston while helping set up decorations at the courthouse. “And we are certainly glad to be included in it — to be a part of this.”
According to Johnston, Henderson Electric helped stand the tree up and decorate the top portion of the tree, which was donated (along with three other trees) by MR and MS Trees.
The Anderson County Tax Office staff spent most of Thursday decorating the tree, and local couple Jim and Frances Liles made and painted Christmas cutouts for a display on the courthouse lawn.
Lowe’s Jeremy Wages also provided materials for the display, and the City of Palestine Public Works Department put up the lighted snowflakes and wrapped lamp posts throughout downtown.
“As far as we know, this is the first time a Christmas tree has been put on display outside the courthouse,” Ellis said. “It is really exciting.”
According to Ellis, this united effort is full of possibility for Palestine and Anderson County — for local businesses and merchants as well as residents and visitors.
“We saw the holiday season as an opportunity for Palestine,” she said. “These partnerships establish new ways of working together in other events, which are a great way to make resources go further.
“It shows the pride that people in Anderson County and Palestine have in the community — that it is a great place to live and to visit,” she added. “I think we all are proud to be a part of it.”
Both Johnston and Ellis also hoped that the effort would become “contagious” — that they will see more and more people contribute and decorate during the Christmas season.
“This is the first time these groups have all gotten together as a community to put a Christmas tree on the square,” Johnston said. “We all hope to see this event get bigger and better. This is our start.”
Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org