ROCKINGHAM — Residents celebrated the official start to the Christmas season Tuesday night with songs, hot chocolate, cookies and the lighting of the Christmas tree at Cole Plaza.
About 100 eighth-graders from Rockingham Middle School chorus sang classic Christmas carols for the packed plaza, under the direction of Richmond County Teacher of the Year Lauren Lutz, before Mayor Steve Morris led the crowd in a countdown to the tree-lighting.
This was the first year that the middle schoolers were invited to sing at the tree-lighting, according to Lutz.
“They are a great group of kids,” Lutz said. “Middle school is a time when everyone is looking for a way to be a part of something and chorus is something that appeals to all kinds of people.”
Aric Ray, 13, Javares Stanback, 13, and Julius Leak, 14, said they like to sing and play music outside of the chorus as well. Leak said he got started with singing in the church choir.
“I got into singing and it was all really good so I tried out (for the chorus),” Leak said.
Lutz said many of the students, including Stanback, are learning how to read music for the first time.
“I just think music is so, like, I can express the way I feel,” Ray said, adding it took him about two weeks to learn all the songs.
Kiara Belanger, 13, and Talayeh Covington, 13, said they sing at church, in the car and in the shower, but this was their first time singing in front of a crowd.
“It was scary but I liked it,” Covington said.
“I messed up once or twice but I got quiet when I messed up,” Belanger said.
The chorus will perform on Dec. 14 at 6 p.m. at Rockingham Middle School.
“This is a fun opportunity for me to show our students off to the public outside of the school building,” Lutz said. “They do so many great things and I wish people got to see that more.”
The lighting of the tree has been a tradition since Cole Plaza was built in 2003, according to former Rockingham Mayor Gene McLaurin.
“I remember the first year that we did this when we brought the tree in…it’s been a great event,” McLaurin said. “It’s something that everybody looks forward to and another great night tonight.”
Much of downtown Rockingham has been transformed over recent days. The trees lining Franklin and Washington Streets are all lit, there’s a smaller Christmas tree on display in Harrington Square, Santa Claus and his sleigh are launching off the roof of the Discovery Place Kids, there’s a giant pair of elves in the front of City Hall and a sign reading “Happy Holidays” in Cole Plaza.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or firstname.lastname@example.org.