‘Biggest tree’ takes main stage in Natchez

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 27, 2010

NATCHEZ — Howard Thomas grew up in Natchez with plenty of memories of the Christmas tree placed smack-dab in the middle of Main Street.

He remembers it being there when he was riding through town, and he remembers it being there during the Christmas parade.

“We had to march around it when I was in the band,” he said. “That was fun.”

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And Thursday night he shared those memories with his children and they made some of their own watching Natchez turn the lights on to its iconic Christmas tree.

Now living in Vicksburg, Thomas was in town visiting family with his wife Olivia and children Zane, 6; Eli, 8 and Savannah, 12.

“It’s the biggest tree I’ve seen,” Zane said.

And if the white lights, Christmas carols and tree weren’t enough to get the crowd in the Christmas spirit, the cold weather was, Olivia said.

“It’s finally feeling like Christmas,” she said with Zane cuddling up for warmth. “They think it’s a little cold right now, but once the lights come on, they’ll be excited.”

Savannah nodded in agreement.

“I’m excited to see what the lights look like,” she said.

The Thomas family was joined by Howard’s parents, sister Cherie Sanders and her children, Thomas, 5, and Anna Lauren, 3, who were in town for Thanksgiving from Houma, La.

“It took a caravan of cars to get us here, but we wanted to all come together,” Cherie said.

The tree lighting and gumbo-cooking contest Thursday signaled the beginning of the official Christmas in Natchez: City of Lights season.

Ginger Hyland, co-chairman of the Christmas in Natchez committee, said the work it takes to pull a season of decorations and events together is worth it when she sees crowds waiting for the tree lights to be turned on.

“This is a great night,” Hyland said. “If this isn’t Christmas spirit, I don’t know what is.”

Natchez Mayor Jake Middleton commended the group on their efforts to enhance and promote Christmas in Natchez. He said because of the work done by the volunteer group, many from Natchez and elsewhere would enjoy a beautiful and exciting Christmas season.

“Your city looks great,” Middleton told the crowd. “And all the city did was help them put it up and give the group a little bit of money.”

The board of alderman donated $3,500 to the Christmas in Natchez fund, half of what the city had previously spent on Christmas decorations.

Middleton said the tree lighting was a signal to the start of Christmas, and he hoped the town would embrace the spirit of Christmas.

“I hope we all try to do what we can to help each other during this Christmas season and all year long,” Middleton said.