Villagers and area residents packed the streets around Brownwood Paddock Square on Tuesday night for the final Christmas tree lighting ceremony of the season in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown.
The holiday spirit clearly was alive and well as the event kicked off with a performance by the Aloha ‘O Ka Hula Dance Troupe, followed by the Sweet & Sassy Line Dance Team. Popular band MPiRE performed throughout the night, which kept Villagers and other area residents busy on the dance floor. And Santa and Mrs. Claus spent plenty of time posing for photos with children and adults alike.
Eagerly awaiting her turn to see the big man in red and his lovely bride, young Isabella Biscardi couldn’t stand still. She was joined by her parents, Angela and Peter. The family came from Coleman for the annual tree lighting event, but rest assured, the stop to see Santa and Mrs. Claus ranked at the top of the priority list.
“She’s literally starstruck,” Angela said with a huge smile as she looked at a fidgeting Isabella. “She’s never met Mrs. Claus, so she’s very excited.”
Another person who couldn’t hide her excitement was Linda Roberts, who moved to the Village of DeSoto a week and a half ago. She was thoroughly enjoying her first tree lighting event, starting with her domination of the dance floor while jamming to the music of MPiRE.
“I just love dancing,” she said with a wide grin.
Roberts said she’s already made a lot of new friends in the area and has enjoyed playing pickleball and golf. But Tuesday night’s event was special to her.
“I just like seeing the whole community come out, this huge crowd and all of the entertainment,” Roberts said. “It’s fun to watch. It’s a great band and the whole thing is just a great experience.”
Longtime friends Sara Buschynski and Carol Lewis, of the Village of Fernandina, felt the same way. They used to live in Upstate New York in Saratoga Springs, but these days, it’s safe to say they are enjoying everything The Villages has to offer.
“We’re having a lot of fun,” Buschynski said. “It’s a beautiful night and it gets us in the Christmas spirit.”
Both women agreed that Tuesday night’s comfortable temperatures in the 60s was something they weren’t used to during the winter months in their former home.
“It’s wonderful not to have a coat on,” an almost giddy Lewis said.
Throughout the night, several other resident performance groups put on festive shows for the crowd. Those included The Villages Gem Stone Dancers, the Silver Rockettes, The Villages Cheerleaders and the Prime Time Twirlers.
Elin Jones, who founded the Prime Time Twirlers 13 years ago, said she always gets excited at Christmas.
“I still get such a thrill performing in front of Villages residents,” the Village of Malory Square resident said. “I get nervous but I just love it. It’s so much fun and I am so proud of my team.”
When the night’s big event, the lighting of the gargantuan Christmas tree that towered over Paddock Square, finally rolled around, three members of The Villages Twirlers & Drum Corps took the stage to handle the emceeing duties. Team captain Ann Pelle and drumline leader Jerry Peacock welcomed the crowd, while Linda Lovering led the group in singing several Christmas favorites before the switch was officially flipped and thousands of bright lights came to life.
“I really enjoyed singing,” Lovering, of the Village of Tall Trees, said after the show. “The crowd was wonderful and they sounded very good. I really had a good time.”
Pelle, of the Village of Briar Meadow, agreed.
“It was wonderful and absolutely beautiful looking at the crowd and seeing all those candles going,” she said. “It was just a warm and fuzzy. They were very appreciative that we were up there and they joined right in. You could really feel them singing along and I was just tickled pink.”
Peacock, of the Village of Liberty Park, called the night an “amazing feat” and said it really hit home to him as he stood onstage and looked out at the massive crowd of onlookers.
“It was the best representation we could have of The Villages lifestyle and what it really means to us,” he said. “I hope we got to share that with the crowd and touch them with the music, so it was great.”
Lovering added that she appreciated being thanked as they left the stage following the lighting of the tree.
“It really warmed my heart because they appreciated it,” she said.
“They really couldn’t have been anymore genuine and warm and receptive,” Pelle added.
Once the tree was officially lit, Pelle, Peacock, Lovering and the other members of The Villages Twirlers & Drum Corps closed out the night with a show featuring everything from snow to a variety of complicated maneuvers and steps to dangerous fire batons. The crowd clearly was in awe as the large group marched offstage and applause could be heard throughout Paddock Square as they wrapped up their show-closing performance.
A few minutes later, MPiRE roared back to life onstage and the fired-up audience quickly filled the dance floor to shake and move to their favorite tunes. It was the third and final tree lighting of the season – Spanish Springs Town Square was this past Wednesday and Lake Sumter Landing Market Square was Friday – so it was fitting that the largest crowd of all came to Brownwood.
And it was no surprise that many of them stuck around to celebrate into the night as thousands of bright lights on the big tree twinkled high above them, keeping a close watch on friends and neighbors who were taking the spirit of the holidays to a new high.