JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s beginning to look a lot like the holidays, especially in Hemming Park.
Jacksonville’s Christmas tree was lit Wednesday night at the park during Art Walk. For the evening, downtown was transformed into the North Pole.
“It’s just wonderful, like, look at this gorgeous tree," Chassity McCray said. "It’s just a wonderful time -- everyone out here with their friends, their family. It’s beautiful -- great way to start our Christmas off.”
The tree, donated by the Sleiman family, was traditionally placed on the St. Johns River in The Jacksonville Landing courtyard and the tree lighting fell on the same night as the boat parade. But the demolition of the Landing forced city leaders to find the tree a new home.
“It is different because it’s actually my first time I’ve been here," McCray said. "But it’s just a beautiful, magical night.”
The city said moving the tree to Hemming Park “just makes sense.” Downtown Vision Inc. agreed, saying it was a natural progression.
“I think it is pretty interesting because, as you know, our Landing is now gone, but we have to move it somewhere and what better of a place than Hemming Plaza because it is in the city’s center?” Jacksonville resident Richard Temecula said.
In years past, a smaller live tree stood in the center of the park. Now the 56-foot tree that was assembled in the park has 78,000 LED Christmas lights.
“It’s a change because a lot of people come here to the park -- just the spirit it brings to everyone who comes here,” Jacksonville resident Bobbie Cox said. “It really brightens the place up with the spirit of Christmas.”
For hours before and after the official lighting Wednesday evening, Hemming Park was merry and bright with hot cocoa, cookies, caroling and other family-friendly events. There was even a special surprise: real snow, created by a truck crushing bags and bags of ice.
Even though it’s the same tree that was used at the Landing for more than three decades, some said it’s not quite the same. But others said it’s about the experience, not the location.
Mayor Lenny Curry also revealed to the crowd that, this year, the tree was originally pledged somewhere else. He said he was heartbroken, so he made a few phone calls and pulled a few strings to keep the tradition alive.
The tree will be in Hemming Park for the public to enjoy through early January.