Christmas tree brightens city


Santa is brought in by Youngstown Fire Department during the Christmas Tree lighting in downtown Youngstown, Friday December 5, 2008


Mayor Jay Williams during the Christmas Tree lighting in downtown Youngstown, Friday December 5, 2008

By Shelby Schroeder

A holiday tradition brings multicolored merriment to downtown Youngstown.

YOUNGSTOWN — Brave and bundled people fought a biting wind in downtown’s Central Square for a seasonal ceremony — lighting the Christmas tree.

Bearing harsh gusts of wind and scattered snow Friday, nearly 100 stood, sat or huddled. Temperatures of 22 degrees Fahrenheit did not freeze the enthusiasm.

“A true Youngstowner braves the worst for the best,” event organizer Brooke Slanina told the crowd.

Behind the podium and speaker’s tent stood this year’s headliner: a 32-foot Colorado blue spruce dressed in big, red bows.

Jason Whitehead, Youngstown’s chief of staff, said the tree was donated by a resident who asked for anonymity.

For guests who couldn’t persuade themselves to feel warm, Jimmy Sutman and Elijah Pegram of the Candy Saloon on Phelps Street were on hand with free hot cocoa. Sutman said the two were honored to be part of the tradition this year.

“We’re only right around the corner, so we thought, ‘Why not?’” said Sutman, manning two tanks of cocoa and a table decked in treats from his store.

Some guests, such as Rick Alcorn, along with his wife, Anita Chen, and daughter, Sharon, brought with them canned goods and other nonperishables for the Second Harvest Food Bank representatives on hand. With their help, donations crept to the top of the barrel.

Then, the ceremony began.

The chattering of teeth was met with a few special acts: the deep vocals of local singer Sterling Anderson, the choir The Youngstown Connection, and a mime performance piece from Chaney High School’s The Lady Aces.

Loved ones squeezed in tight embraces, some for warmth and others in the spirit of the holiday.

Jerri Dietrich sat her son Michael on her lap during the jingles and acts. But it wasn’t until a firetruck blaring its sirens turned onto Federal Plaza that the 3-year-old let loose from his mother’s grip.

“Who’s that, Mikey?” Dietrich asked her wide-eyed toddler.

Rescue Squad 33 of the Youngstown Fire Department chauffeured the white-bearded spirit of Christmas to the tree, and the children were thrilled.

“Ho, ho, ho,” said Santa Claus, toting a shiny bag of candy canes. “It’s my time of the year, and I love it!”

After a few deep belly laughs and a request to guests to hold “love in your hearts all year long,” Santa turned his attention to the honor of the night. And with the flip of a switch, the Christmas tree was lit piece by piece, as though the lights themselves struggled against the cold.

Within seconds, the large, red bows were made nearly invisible to a network of blue, red, yellow and green bulbs. A lit gold tree topper stood as its beacon in the dimming evening.

They had seen what they came for, and so the brave Youngstowners scurried to the nearest source of warmth.

Lighting the tree in Central Square is a tradition more than 40 years old.

This year, First Night Youngstown co-hosted the event, seeking sponsors and piquing interest in this New Year’s celebration in downtown.

For more information on First Night Youngstown, visit, or call (330) 744-9966 to get involved.

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