Christmas season kick-off this weekend in Tacoma

“Alan Watson, at right, an electrician with the Tacoma Fire Department’s electrical and maintenance division, attaches strings of lights onto the 70-foot tree set up in front of the Pantages Theatre on Broadway. After Sunday’s Holiday Parade, Santa will light the tree, which will display 10,000 twinkling lights. (Photo by Bonnie West)For five or six days in one special week before the official start of Tacoma’s Christmas season, members of the Tacoma Fire Department’s Electric and Maintenance Department spend nine-hour days wrapping an enormous tree with strings of lights and adding colorful decorations.The seventy-foot-high Douglas Fir they’ve been working on this week will mark the 54th year the City of Tacoma has celebrated the season with an official tree lighting. In 1945, after World War Two ended, a general at Fort Lewis donated the first tree to the citizens of Tacoma for helping soldiers during the war, said Fred Sanaman, chairman of the Holiday Parade.I have always been concerned that the public doesn’t realize how much effort and time Fort Lewis puts in on this tree, he said. They are the biggest donors of all and to the parade. They put their band and special honor guard in.He added that it would cost over $40,000 for the city to have its tree if not for the involvement of the base.On Sunday, Dec. 3, after the Twentieth Annual Holiday Parade which begins at 5 p.m., Santa Claus will brighten the night with the press of a button to make the 10,000 festive twinkling lights the fire department has strung come to life.Thousands of people are expected to line the parade route, which will make a welcoming path for the 52 parade units. There will be drill teams, marching bands, and colorful floats. One of them, toy-themed of course, from Fife/Milton, will carry the parade’s most welcome guests of honor, Santa and Mrs. Claus. Although the forecast calls for rain, Chairman Sanaman believes in miracles: A couple of times in the last few years, it stopped raining about an hour for us.Officials at the parade, who will travel the route in antique cars, will be Parade Grand Marshal Lt. General James Hill from Ft. Lewis, Tacoma’s Mayor Brian Ebersol, and Tacoma Police Chief James Hairston.The parade is sponsored be ATT Broadband, KeyBank, Hospice of Tacoma and the Tacoma Pierce County Chamber of Commerce. A number of other organizations are involved in presenting this yearly local custom, including the Downtown Tree Committee formed by local merchants and business owners, and the Greater Tacoma Community Association. For the ninth consecutive year, PJ Hummel & Company, Inc., of Tacoma, has hand-picked and overseen the installation of the 70-foot downtown Tacoma Christmas Tree.This year, PJ Hummel and a forest ranger at the Ft. Lewis base chose the tree to be cut. In a ceremony at Ft. Lewis the tree was officially presented to the City of Tacoma, and on Nov. 21st, at 2 a.m., the tree arrived at the Pantages Theater in downtown Tacoma.PJ Hummel & Company, Inc., is a local event design and decor firm that offers event decorating for large corporate events.They created a new theme for this year’s tree, which stands in the courtyard between the Pantages Theatre and the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts. In 1991, the tree had only 4,000 lights. This year, there will be 10,000 lights of four different colors wrapping the tree, including twice as many twinkle lights as last year. Owner PJ Hummel has donated her time to coordinate the stringing of the lights in her own design studio for the past nine years. This year the stringing took more than two months to complete. In a phone interview given from his visit to the South Pole, Santa Claus said he really enjoys being at the parade each year. It’s really great because you get to see the kids and talk with the kids and generally after the tree lighting and parade there’s a big rush of them all to get in with Santa!Santa sometimes has adventures to remember from his parade visit. One year after lighting the tree with a remote device, he slipped it into his glove so he wouldn’t lose it. Every child who shook my hand either turned the tree lights on or off until someone came and got the device back from me!He said the many children he meets always check to make sure Santa is the real deal, so they can be assured he exists.They look for anything to prove I’m not the real Santa, he said. They look over my beard to make sure it’s real, they check to be sure the only jewelry I’m wearing is a Santa watch. For those lucky enough to get close to Santa, pay attention to the belt buckle at the waist of his handmade velvet suit trimmed with white fur. It’s a real silver military regiment belt buckle given to me by Canadian/Scottish children.And the deep jingle jangle of the sleigh bells that bounce on Santa’s real sleigh were a gift as well. They came from Sweden, he said. and are real sleigh bells. They have a different sound…deeper. So if anyone was wondering who gives gifts to Santa, there you go. Santa sent along a special Christmas message for everyone in Pierce County at the end of his interview:The only things I can wish for is that they be good to each other and kind. And remember that there’s people that are worse off than they are, and just be happy with your every day life. And of course, have a Merry Christmas and a glorious New Year!Sunday’s Parade Route: Sunday’s Holiday Parade route begins at 5 p.m. at 8th Street and Pacific Avenue, travels south on Pacific to 13th Street, travels west on 13th to Broadway, and north on Broadway to 9th Street and the Pantages Theatre where the tree-lighting ceremony will take place. “