ROCKINGHAM —With the flick of a switch, Sandy Ridley lit up a 42-foot artificial Christmas tree at Cole Plaza and kicked off the Christmas season in downtown Rockingham.
The 11th annual Christmas tree lighting Tuesday night signaled the start of the Christmas season for the city and its residents. The L.J. Bell Elementary School choir sang Christmas carols including “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “O Christmas Tree” and everyone chimed in on “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
Children and adults alike enjoyed cookies and hot chocolate after the tree was lit. Rockingham Mayor Steve Morris extended a Merry Christmas to everyone on behalf of the city. He encouraged everyone to volunteer this holiday season, and “give a few minutes and help someone less fortunate.”
Ridley, who retired as the city’s community development officer on Nov. 30, couldn’t stay away from City Hall and the adjacent plaza. She was pressed into duty to light up the plaza for all to enjoy.
“This is very exciting, and the tree is beautiful,” Ridley said.
Morris did not feel that the weather effected the turnout on Tuesday night. In fact, it might have helped. Though there were a few intermittent rain drops, the temperature was a pleasant 59 degrees and the wind was negligible.
“This is our seventh year coming to the Christmas tree lighting,” said Shelley Russell, of Ellerbe.
Russell’s other holiday traditions include eating breakfast at grandma’s house, making ornaments and participating in the Christmas play at church.
Mike Fugate, of Rockingham, has been coming out to the Christmas tree lighting for eight years.
Braden Carriker, 6, liked the lights and the big star on top of the tree.
The tree lighting serves as the city’s official kickoff to the Christmas season. The 17th annual Christmas on the Square celebration is set for this Saturday on Harrington Square. There will be arts and crafts, entertainment, food, and fun for the whole family from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Entertainment will include Hamlet Middle School Honors Choir, a pet show, petting zoo and pony rides and the Richmond Cruisers will have vintage antique cars on display. The Knights of Columbus will be raffling off a building. The Lions Club Vision Van will also be on site offering free vision screenings.
For children, Santa Claus will be making all day appearances. Kids will also be able to enjoy the free Kids Zone where there is no charge for the super slide, castle jump, climbing rock wall and train.
Christmas on the Square is joining with Richmond County’s Toys for Tots chapter and will be on site collecting unwrapped toys and cash donations in lieu of bringing an unwrapped toy.
Vendors will have baked goods, food and refreshments, flower arrangements, handmade contemporary and native jewelry, holiday decorations, jams and jellies, military service memorials and soaps.