Islander Steve Choo stood in a happy crowd in front of Police Department headquarters on North Ferry Road a few minutes before five p.m. on Tuesday. He and his wife Lindsey and daughters Sienna, 7, and Ilsa 3, where waiting with others for the countdown to the lighting of the Christmas Tree, an annual event sponsored by the Shelter Island Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s one of the best days of the year on Shelter Island,” Mr. Choo said, mentioning other community events, such as the Halloween parade and the Crafts Fair.
But there was a bonus to Tuesday’s festivities. “The little one,” he pointed to his youngest, “gets to meet Santa for the first time.”
Kids chased each other around the towering pyramid of the Colorado spruce, strung with darkened bulbs, waiting for the switch to be flipped to illuminate the branches and needles. Children were everywhere, smiles on every face, free to dash around, bundled up against a wind chill in the 30s, waving complimentary glow sticks provided by the Chamber, their laughter and shouts carrying clearly in the bracing air of December.
The Highway Department decorates the tree every year, and the lights circling the spruce were donated more than decade ago by the Shelter Island Ace Hardware, according to Dave Gurney, replacing the old bulbs with LED lights. Since then, he said, the Highway Department replaces strings of lights as needed.
Dave and Donna Persson were with their granddaughter Eliza McCarthy, 10, who had proudly helped switch the lights on seven years ago, Ms. Persson said. They’ve been regulars at the event, she added, echoing Mr. Choo that it was one of the best days on the Island, including the Memorial Day Parade.
“We love to see the kids,” Ms. Persson said.
It was Erin Wells first time at the lighting. “I’m here to celebrate the holidays with everyone,” she said, a break from the concerns of the day. She looked up at the dark tree, saying, “It’s beautiful.”
A stand with digital numbers was set up for the countdown to the lighting. Brett Surerus, master of ceremonies, stood on the steps of police headquarters and asked children ringing around him what they wanted for Christmas. One kid shouted, “A mouse!”
As the crowd laughed, Mr. Surerus looked mock puzzled. “You mean a real mouse?”
“Well,” Mr. Sureus replied, “it’s winter on Shelter Island, so a lot of people have mice in there basements they can give you.”
Santa and Ms. Claus — looking remarkably like Jim Pugh and Sarah Shepherd — then came out the front door of headquarters to applause. Mr. Surerus asked the crowd who had a December birthday, so they could come up and help flip the switch for the lights. A young voice from the crowd called out, “I have an August birthday,” and another said, “October! Will that work?”
Unfortunately, not. Finally, three December-born children came up as the crowd counted down from 20 together. At zero, the switch was flipped, bringing the stately tree alive with lights.
Ooos and ahhs and applause. Santa made his way through the crowd, first bumping everyone and softly singing “Jingle Bell Rock.”
Parents were calling their kids to gather and friends wished each other Merry Christmas as they departed. At the top of the tree was a gold star, and high above, like another ornament, a bright crescent moon was hung in clouds.