Tree lightings, boat parade as holidays kick off

By Ashley Harding - Reporter, Crystal Moyer - Traffic/reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It may seem like the holidays are merging together with Thanksgiving falling late this year and Hanukkah happening earlier that it has in centuries.  That leaves only 27 days between turkey on the table and Santa Claus coming down the chimney.

Christmas events begin in earnest this weekend, with the lighting of the tree at The Landing on Friday night and Jacksonville Light Parade on the St. Johns River on Saturday -- both followed by fireworks.

The 56-foot tree with more than 240 ornaments and 78,000 LED lights were turned on after a ceremony that includes music and celebrities.

"We've been coming to the Christmas Tree lighting since we moved here when I was about 5 years old, so there's a lot of memories connected to it," said Emily Sheldon.

Other families will line the river Saturday to watch boats decorated for the season parading Metropolitan Park to the Fuller Warren Bridge.  The boats begin two loops of the watery parade route at 7 p.m., with fireworks after they are done.

Anastasia Kostecki, who is in town visiting her in-laws, is excited to take her young daughter light parade for the first time.

"We plan on coming Saturday night and seeing the boat parade, and we hope she'll last for the fireworks," said Kostecki.

For Gavin and Yuzeth Martin, this Christmas season is extra special because this time, they have their newborn son, Cruz.

"We just came out here to enjoy the festivities and listen to the music and the lighting of the tree, and he's been loving the music."

In Fernandina Beach, Winter Wonderland runs through Saturday with a full size ice-skating rink, a 15-foot snow globe and other activities.  They light their tree at 6:15 p.m. Saturday.

Among ongoing events, St. Augustine began their Nights of Lights in the historic district last week, World Golf Village is hosting its Festival of Trees, where decorative trees and wreaths are being auctioned for charity and Adventure Landing as become Winterfest for the rest of the year.

The annual boat parade will kick off Saturday night on the St. Johns River. For these residents, this is the perfect way to get ready for the holidays. They're already looking forward to next year.

"Everybody out, enjoying the music, enjoying the tree...the lights, the festivities. It just lights a fire inside you foe that nice Christmas spirit."

Coming in December is First Coast Nutcracker, followed by the Community Nutcracker Ballet a week later, Santa photos and appearance all over town, concerts, religious services and much more.

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