HAMMONTON - Downtown Hammonton was looking merry and bright on Saturday evening as hundreds of people gathered on the corner of Central and Bellevue avenues for the annual Holiday Tree Lighting.

The night got under way with a music show to help set the stage for the tree lighting and the big man in red himself — Santa Claus. Performers included the Hammonton Community Chorus, the Hammonton High School Select Choir, the Dance Magic Dance Studio and many more.

Dawn Baldwin, owner of the Dance Magic Dance Studio, had double duty as she not only helped prepare her dancers for the show, but also helped to coordinate the entire evening. Baldwin is no stranger to coordinating the holiday tree lighting though — she helped last year as well. However, she had a clear goal for this year’s tree lighting: “To make it more exciting than last year,” said Baldwin.

Despite the busy preparations, Baldwin said she deeply enjoys the holiday tree lighting. She does have her favorite moments of the festivities. “When they play ‘Spirit of the Season’ and seeing Santa. I am definitely a believer,” smiled Baldwin.

She wasn’t alone. Many of those in attendance seemed to be looking forward to seeing Santa arrive to light the tree. As the time drew ever closer, the crowds that gathered around the holiday tree grew visibly more excited with children — and adults — craning their necks to try and catch that first glimpse of Santa.

When Santa arrived on a brightly decorated fire truck, he was greeted by the Hammonton High School Select Choir and the crowd singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. After making his way through the sea of smiling faces, Santa finally arrived at his specially designated podium.

With a burst of Christmas magic, Santa lit the holiday tree to resounding cheers.

After the tree lighting, Santa made his way into the Wells Fargo bank where excited children could sit on his lap and give him their Christmas lists.

Seeing Santa light the tree was definitely the highlight of the evening for twins Ellora and Ryan McGranahan, 4.

“We came to see the tree lighting, it’s our second time,” Ellora proudly said. While their parents Jeff and Malinda McGranahan also enjoyed seeing the tree being lit, they had more simple pleasures.

“My favorite part was being here because I wasn’t able to come last year,” said Jeff, with Malinda adding that a favorite part of hers was the kids “being so excited.”

Cassie Iacovelli, executive director of MainStreet Hammonton, was thrilled to see the evening going well and was feeling thankful to everyone who helped make the evening possible.

“I am grateful to our sponsors. I am also thrilled and grateful to Dawn Baldwin and the Mainstreet volunteers,” said Iacovelli.

Throughout the evening, holiday revelers also had the opportunity to enjoy carolers, horse-drawn carriage rides, the Hammonton Historical Society’s open house, and a living Nativity put on by Victory Bible Church.

There will plenty more opportunities to enjoy the Christmas spirit in Hammonton this holiday season with the Firemen’s Christmas Parade being held on Saturday, Dec. 9, at 7 p.m. and “Jingle and Mingle” Third Thursday on Dec. 21.

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