SAN BENITO – One year ago, children were studying from home, adults were working from home and a new hybrid way of life was taking shape as COVID-19 left an unbridled path of both fear and devastation around the world.
Even Santa stayed begrudgingly cuddled up in his North Pole home along with the Missus, the elves, and the reindeer, knowing full well that all rooftops and chimneys had become off limits, even if he wore a mask.
Last week, however, a much-needed spirit lifter and highly anticipated Christmas tree lighting in San Benito brought nearby and surrounding communities together to Heavin Park in droves. The annual event welcomed more than an estimated 1,000 people, many of whom were excited to return and take part in an activity that was just another step toward reaching normalcy, whatever their normal might be.
San Benito resident Sylvia Vallejo had been to the annual lighting on many joyous occasions, often, bringing one or more of her grandchildren to perform on stage in front of hundreds in an outdoor amphitheater style setting. Friday was no different during a perfect evening as Vallejo brought her granddaughter Grace to perform a dance with classmates from Dr. Cash Elementary.
“I’m usually here every year,” she said. “My other grandkids have performed at these events and it’s great that it’s back. It’s a nice thing for the community.”
Children from many of the area schools performed, singing or dancing, to a crowd of parents, city officials, law enforcement and other community residents, who also enjoyed a beautiful sunset, snacks and the highlight of the evening – the lighting of the Christmas tree, and entire park – from reindeer to elves, trees with icicle lights or their trunks wrapped in lights – to the tunnel of lights that welcomed guests and, of course, to the main character of the story, the Christmas tree of white lights.
When the countdown ended and the lights snapped on, it was hard not to notice the symbolism of the difference between last year and this year – and the ooohs and ahhs of both children and adults could he heard from all over the park.
“It was so dark and gloomy last year because of the pandemic,” San Benito Public Information Director Dave Favila said. “To have this back is so exciting to share with the community. Judging by the turnout, it’s clear that people are ready to come out and celebrate and get back into the Christmas spirit.”
The Park will have the lights on display through the rest of the year and on Friday city officials expect a large turnout after the annual Christmas Parade on Sam Houston.
“This has been an annual event and we are very happy to do it especially this time,” San Benito Parks and Recreation Director Ramon Rodriguez said. “The community really came out and they are enjoying it. All the schools participated, it’s a good event, and we went all out this year.”
More than 100 participants/groups had registered to take place in this week’s parade as well.
“Everyone can follow us and all the events on our Facebook page,” said Favila, adding that Winter Texans had already participated in some of the events as he welcomed them to the parade, the park and more. “We’ve been trying to get the word out to the Winter Texans and let them know that this is going on.
“Keep looking for us, we have events happening again.”