Ethan and Andrew M'Mwirichia, Renee Ingersoll and Makena and Peter M'Mwirichia
Not even a pandemic would keep Santa Claus, his elves and a pair of stray southern reindeer away at Christmastime, so at the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce's second annual tree lighting on Nov. 28, all were present and spreading cheer.
“I was not going to go a year, no matter how bad this year has been, without lighting the tree,” Chamber President Gail Loefgren said.
New residents Dahlia and Robby Reid attended for the first time. They like going to these types of ceremonies to kick off the season, Robby said, and Dahlia added that it’s a good way to get out of the house.
“It just shows how hungry we are for connection,” Loefgren said. “We got a pretty decent crowd for doing nothing. All we were doing was lighting the tree.”
Indeed, there was nothing extra to do besides wait for the lights to come on — no food trucks or local club activities or even sitting on Santa’s lap, like there was at last year’s inaugural event — but the attendees milling around enjoyed the fresh air and the physically distanced camaraderie.
Families and couples in masks drifted close to each other, trying to decipher which friend they were seeing based on the unmasked upper half of each other’s faces, then chatting in the open areas or near each other’s cars while kids ran free on the Town Center Green.
“It felt like there was a good hum around here today,” Rotary Club of Longboat Key President Brad Marner said. “People were talking a lot.”
There was a headcount loosely kept by town manager Tom Harmer throughout the evening, and an estimated 75 people showed up to the second annual tree lighting, staying masked and physically distant.
“I thought it was going to be just us (Chamber members) standing around,” Design 2000 owner Irina LaRose said. “It was very exciting. Quite a few people came that I had given the flyer to at the salon.”
At 6:30 p.m., Loefgren called for everyone’s attention prior to the lighting of the tree. A cluster of oak trees was wrapped in blue and white lights, courtesy of the hard work of Mark Meador from Casa Del Mar and Danielle Beatt from Grant’s Gardens. This year, the lights climbed 15 feet higher up the trees than last year.
“Our goal is to someday get to the very top of all the oak trees,” Loefgren said. “That will be a spectacular evening.”
Mayor Ken Schneier was given the honor of lighting the tree.
“I hope that this park and our new Town Center can signify what binds us as a community, a year from now, when Phase Two of the center is complete … God willing, the virus is a memory,” Schneier said. “We'll look back on 2020 is the year our community came together as one.”