Lighting Up This Christmas Season with Fashion Island’s Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony

by Summer Wong

As my boyfriend and I drove into the entrance of the Fashion Island shopping mall in Newport Beach last Monday, we were immediately bombarded with cars that jam-packed us in all directions.

The annual holiday tree lighting, one of Orange County’s biggest and most heavily-attended events of the holidays, was taking place, and upon arriving, I realized how much I underestimated the number of people who were planning to attend.

Peeking my head out of the car window, I noticed families who had given up on finding parking and resigned to dropping off their children so that they could walk over to the event themselves. Driving in endless circles and waiting tirelessly as we were directed to several parking garages without parking spaces, my boyfriend and I were destined for the same fate. Aidan had to drop me off in front of Macy’s.

I hastily hopped off the car, the chilly night air numbing my fingertips, and made my way over to Bloomingdale Square right in front of Neiman Marcus and Louis Vuitton. The bells and upbeat music jingled from afar as I eagerly made my way to the event. I faced an enormous crowd, and was astounded by the hundreds of people able to efficiently squeeze into a tiny area.

VIP access was given to the crowd of people who arrived at the event early and were able to lay their blankets and prop their chairs and tents for front-row seats.

A magnificent, ninety-foot Christmas tree stood in the back, waiting to be lit with several palm trees decorated with colorful lights wrapped around its trunks to add to the festive holiday. Families huddled together for warmth, waiting for the lighting to begin. For those sitting in the back, there were two TV screens to help see what was happening on stage.

Luckily, I managed to squeeze my way to the middle of the crowd where there was still a bit of room. I stood next to a middle-aged woman with her adorable two-year-old son, who struck up a conversation with me when she noticed I was gazing at everything, waiting for the event to begin. From her, I learned that she was a single mom, working two jobs in order to support herself and her son, and that this Christmas tree lighting event was the first mommy-son time they’ve spent together in a long while. Warmed by her enthusiasm and tough spirit, I realized that this event brought families away from their regular duties to simply have fun and enjoy the holiday festivities.

The host of the event, Mark Wallengren, a producer of the radio station KOST 103.5 accompanied by Mrs. Claus, began the festivities by heartily greeting the little children, inviting them on stage to sing and play games.

A small non-profit music organization performed a myriad of classic Christmas songs such as “Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer,” “Let it Snow,” and “Joy to the World.”

Many of the performers even had experience performing on Broadway. Dressed in flashy red, green, yellow and blue dresses and suits, their voices captivated the hearts of all of their listeners. The audience applauded and cheered enthusiastically before and after each song.
Once the performances came to a close, Santa Claus, with some help from the younger audience members, engaged the crowd in a ten-second countdown before he lit the Christmas tree with a pull of a giant candy-cane shaped switch. In a heartbeat, all the colorful lights swirled up the Christmas tree and lit it up like stars in a dark night.

This whole event definitely encapsulated the idea of family and togetherness, taking time out of busy schedules to be with loved ones. With college life — midterms, finals, sports, clubs and internships — constantly occupying my every thought and every minute of my time, it’s been difficult finding the time to hang out with loved ones. As the holiday season rolls around, simply attending an event like this to dive into the holiday spirit fosters a sense of relaxed happiness in us all — a welcome break from college’s trials and tribulations.