by Lee Noles
MONROE – It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
At least in historic downtown Monroe, it appears people are in the yuletide spirit after the city ushered in the holiday season with its annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on Dec. 2. Stores on Main Street were adorned with glittering, multi-color lights, and doorways covered in wreaths and garland. Glistening faux snowflakes were attached to street lampposts to add to the atmosphere.
The celebration started small in 1993 with the lighting of one tiny tree on the courthouse grounds. It has since become one of the most popular and attended attractions the city has to offer. Growing from just under 300 the first year to having as many as 4,000 people in other years.
“This is great,” said Monroe Mayor Bobby Kilgore, who flipped the switch to light the giant tree, which will stand draped in ornaments and red, blue and green lights at the end of main street. “We can come down here and people can bring their kids and join us in lighting this tree. Christmas time is here.”
The tree lighting wasn’t the only thing the ceremony had to offer. There was also singing performances by students from Benton Heights and Sardis elementary schools. Choirs walked up and down streets belting out people’s favorite yuletide songs. The lines were long for both the train and trolley ride to take people through Monroe, but neither could match the line to meet Santa Claus, which stretched nearly around the corner at the old Belk building.
One of the most popular attractions, which touched the sweet tooth of nearly everyone there, was the dessert cookoff among high school students. The event raises money for the New Century Scholarship Program, which helps students attend South Piedmont Community College.
The bakeoff was divided into four categories, with winners being selected in groups for bars, candy and drop and roll cookies. Parkwood High took home top prize in the roll cookie competition with its holiday sugar cookie. In the candy category, Marvin Ridge won with its chocolate praline crisp. Porter Ridge won the drop cookie competition with its soft spicy molasses cookie, while Sun Valley took home top honors for its peppermint bark in the bar competition.
When it came to sharing the ingredients to their award-winning peppermint bark, there were no scrooges or grinches from Sun Valley.
“No secret ingredients,” Sun Valley senior Alexis Roseboro said. “You take candy cane, crush it up and sprinkle it on white chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate. It’s pretty easy.”
The event brought more than just good tidings and Christmas cheer to people. The economic impact was felt up and down Main Street. Several stores opened the evening of the ceremony in anticipation of knowing how much extra business would be going through downtown.
One of those was the shop Silver Lining. The popular boutique, which usually operates during the day, stayed opened on the night of the tree lighting. The shop was bustling with customers, keeping the sales people going from one area of the store to the other to assist in helping people.
“All of these things help out around here,” saleswoman Deja Kissiah said. “So, we are happy about it.”
The tree lighting is part of several events the City of Monroe puts on annually to bring people to the downtown area to eat, shop and socialize. In addition to the ceremony, the city also has the Classic Car Cruise-In, which is the second Friday of each month between April and October. There’s also the Music on Main Street series, which brings in an assortment of performers on the second Thursday of each month between April and September.
The positive effect economically is noticed by the different stores, including the Crust and Jam on Main Street. The restaurant, which specializes in Italian food and biscuits, was full of customers for the tree lighting ceremony.
“We look forward to it because it brings in a lot more business than we would on maybe other nights,” employee Will Heisner said of the event, as well as fall and winter festivals.