Hundreds gather for annual Columbia Christmas ceremony
The crowd began a countdown at “10” on the starry, but not silent Monday evening.
When the group of hundreds shouted “one,” a large orange button, seemingly fit to deploy a nuclear missile, was pressed in front of the Statehouse.
But the button did not end the world as we know it. Instead, it caused an explosion of glowing glitter and twinkling lights that silenced even the youngest children who had been weaving in and out of adult legs. For just a moment, everyone was too busy staring at the giant Christmas tree to speak.
Then, with an eruption of cheers and sparkling blue and pink lights, Christmas began in 60-degree weather for Columbians at the annual “Carolighting.”
“Famously Hot Columbia couldn’t be a more appropriate phrase tonight,” Mayor Steve Benjamin said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
As Benjamin pointed out, the real beauty of the night was neither the tree nor the stars, but the gathering of people from all backgrounds to celebrate the holiday spirit that outshone even the tree.
Indeed, the crowd was a mixing pot. Children of all backgrounds played together under the Confederate flag flying beside the tree. Jews, Christians and Muslims took part in the ceremony together. USC fans even mingled with Clemson graduates.
“Since it’s Christmastime, I won’t rub it in that we beat the mess out of you,” one older man said to a young Clemson alumna, grinning.
The USC community came out in force for the event, both as spectators and participants. The portmanteau held true, as the night featured plenty of Christmas carols sung under the twinkling tree. The USC Choir, Gospel Choir, Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Winds brass players sang and played alongside elementary school children and the Palmetto Bronze Handbell Ensemble as family, friends and faculty proudly watched.
“Everyone I run into has complimented me on the music presented by the university,” said USC president Harris Pastides. “The students donate their time and effort to help celebrate this night, and it is so appreciated by everyone in the Columbia, USC and South Carolina community. It’s been a great night.”
While everyone seemed to be enjoying the evening, the kids were the most jolly of all. The babies and young children, especially, were dazzled by the glimmering tree, while the older ones ran to hug Santa. Brandy Bradley of Kershaw and her infant son, Aiden, melted an onlooking crowd as he reached out and gently touched his reflection in an ornament. One little girl tried to sneak away with a few Christmas lights as souvenirs of the evening. Brothers and sisters played with a blonde, curly coated “Doodle” puppy.
“It’s most fun for the kids,” said John Harrison, who was lounging in a garden chair. “It’s a good night for the community, and it’s been pretty much the same for the past 35 years. Same decorations since 1977, I think.”
“He’s very old,” his wife, Trisha, added with a chuckle.
Everyone of importance seemed to be in attendance, well dressed and cheerful. Along with Gov. Nikki Haley, Mayor Benjamin and President Pastides, Secretary of State Mark Hammond was also celebrating with his wife and daughter. He was a little embarrassed to say that this is his first Carolighting experience, but he guarantees he’ll be back for the next one.
“This is an absolutely wonderful program and I’ll be back with my family for many more,” Hammond said. “It’s a real reason for the season.”