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Traditional tree lighting Palkovic leads countdown, Mayor Oettel’s emphasis on ‘Christmas’ gets warm reception
By: RICHARD REITZ Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer
Turn the corner from Broad Street into Lititz Springs Park last Friday evening, and you entered a festive Christmas atmosphere that felt as traditional and timeless as any celebrated over the past 50 years.
As the Lititz Moravian Trombone Choir performed seasonal favorites and candles lined the entrance and pond, hundreds of people converged for Christmas in the Park, the annual Lititz community tree lighting ceremony.
Participants enjoyed a crisp but mild evening… nothing that a warm jacket and gloves couldn’t handle.
"It was just cold enough to remind us that it’s the beginning of the Christmas season," said Lititz Mayor Ron Oettel.
In recognition for his dedication as a longtime community volunteer and leader, Stephen Palkovic was honored with the task of lighting of the community Christmas tree. He shared memories of past Christmas celebrations in Lititz, including the days when the tree lighting ceremony was held at the nearby Square. It was moved to the park in 1994 for safety concerns, where it has been held ever since.
Palkovic led the crowd in the countdown from 10 that ended in the illumination of the tree and the lights around the caboose where Santa has once again set up shop.
Palkovic said this was the largest gathering for Christmas in the Park that he had ever seen.
Rev. Mark Breland, pastor at Lititz Moravian Church, presented an inspiring Christmas prayer, Oettel took the podium and praised Lititz for holding firm to its traditions.
"We come here tonight in joy, and I am glad to be here in a community where we can still celebrate the lighting of the Christmas tree," Oettel said.
His emphasis on "Christmas" generated the loudest cheers of the evening.
Afterward, Oettel said it was a very satisfying response. "I think one of the things that makes events like this so special is that our community is rooted in its traditions. For many of us, this is a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree. It really does hold a lot of meaning closely related to the Christian faith, and that should be recognized."
He was very pleased with how well the evening went.
"How can you beat this? It’s a beautiful park, with beautiful music and a beautiful tree," he said.
The tree lighting was immediately followed by another Christmas in the Park tradition… a performance by the Warwick High School Concert Choir led by director Deborah Kline-Smith. They blended fresh new sounds into the evening and gave it an upbeat tempo. Afterward, the Concert Choir, Trombone Choir and the community joined together to sing several traditional Christmas songs.
Families also started gathering around the newly lit tree for photos of the special occasion.
"I think that this music is great," said Derick Klopp of Akron, who was joined by his wife Kristina and their 8-month-old daughter Adalyn. He said they saw the event advertised online. "We thought it would be a great place to start the celebration of our daughter’s first Christmas season."
He added they had been to the park many times before for walks, but this was their first time at the Christmas in the Park event.
Keith and Jenelle Hoover moved to Lititz earlier this year from Lancaster, and wanted to celebrate a community Christmas event with their children Levi, 5, and Sophia, 2.
"This is a very good way to kick off the Christmas season," Keith said, adding that the weather helped make it a nice evening.
"Events like this are great, especially when you have kids," Jenelle added. "It’s good to be able to get out of the house and enjoy the community like this."
Scott Hain, Lititz Borough Council member and the master of ceremonies, welcomed the crowd at the start of the ceremony and promised that a special guest might be joining them soon.
Sure enough, shortly after the tree lighting, Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived in a horse drawn carriage, and Santa offered a few words of Christmas cheer to the crowd.
After reminding the crowd to come out on Saturday for a Merry Lititz Christmas, he said he had to go feed his reindeer and offered up a hearty "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!" More CHRISTMAS IN THE PARK, page A15