The crowd in Keene’s Central Square Friday evening was dotted with beanies of all colors — some with pompoms, a few brandishing the names of sports teams, many that looked like they were crocheted with love — and they sat atop smiling faces.
The Kiwanis Club of Keene has hosted the annual tree-lighting ceremony since 2013, making this the organization’s seventh year at the helm. Kids ran and played and danced throughout the square, jingling large bells the club distributed with the help of local high school volunteers.
Musical performances included the Grand Monadnock Youth Choirs and the Nelson Brass Ensemble. Students from Surry Village Charter School and St. Joseph Regional School accepted donations as they offered hot chocolate and an array of cookies in all shapes and covered in myriad colors of frosting.
And of course, families took countless photos in front of the towering tree and its dazzling display of lights. Keene resident Todd Waterman donated the white fir for this year’s event.
Then Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus settled in beneath a canopy tent, where a line formed of children eager to share their holiday desires and parents with phones held at the ready.
One of the kids waiting for their turn was Eva Kimber, 6, who held a paper with her wish list tight in her hands. She reread the list more than once before reaching the tent and excitedly joining the Clauses.
Santa seemed impressed, and together they read her wide range of gift ideas, which included a toy train from the movie “Frozen,” an iPad and a water bottle.
Eva’s parents, Stephanie and Matt Kimber of Keene, said they’ve been attending the ceremony on and off for about 25 years, depending on the weather. It’s a charming communal event, they said, that offers a chance to see friends and acquaintances, too.
With the gazebo glowing brightly behind them, Alison and Derek Scalia took a selfie with their kids as the Nelson Brass Ensemble played classic holiday tunes. This marked the Scalias’ fifth year at the tree-lighting.
Their daughter Natalie, 7, wore a necklace that twinkled with oversized Christmas lights. This was only the second visit for Daniel, 1, who lazed comfortably in a baby carrier on his mom’s torso.
Alison said she’s grateful to live in a city that’s home to such an event to kick off the holiday spirit.
“It’s just that excitement that you get with the start of the season,” she said.
Derek agreed and tacked on another function of the tree-lighting.
“It’s also a reminder of the importance of community during these dark days,” he added.
He meant that both literally and figuratively, he said, referring to winter’s longer nights as well as the national and global turmoil that tends to linger like a cloud.
“Being here together with one another,” is crucial, he said.