More than five hundred families came out to enjoy the tree lighting ceremony with games and warm refreshment at John McLaren Lodge in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
"The Holiday Tree Lighting at McLaren Lodge is a San Francisco tradition that highlights how much our City values our world class parks, our children and families,” said Mayor Ed Lee.
Mayor Lee led San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, elected officials, San Francisco Fire Department and other city agencies to kick off the 2012 Holiday Season that Thursday evening with the 83rd Annual Holiday Tree Lighting.
Adorned with more than 550 multi-colored lights surrounded by a decorated train, is a century's-old Monterrey Cypress planted by the City’s first park superintendent, John McLaren. Located near the Haight-Ashbury side of Golden Gate Park, the tree is planted outside the lodge that used to be McLaren's home. Considered the official holiday tree for the City, coinciding to the one lit two days earlier on Dec. 4 and placed in the grand rotunda at City Hall, that one is referred to as "The Tree of Hope."
The Annual "Tree of Hope" is lit each year in San Francisco's City Hall. It is sponsored by the Rainbow World Fund, promoting peace, hope and humanitarian efforts for a better world.
Around this "City Tree" in Golden Gate Park, there were North Pole Café for warm refreshment, Santa’s Workshop for arts and crafts, Imagination Playground for games and more. In addition, SF Rec and Park offered toy and canned food donation stations for SF Fire Department’s Toys for Tots Program, and SF Food Bank.
The annual tree lighting is a SF Rec and Park’s winter family event that began in 1929. "John McLaren began the tradition of lighting trees along a mile-long stretch of Fell Street leading to the City Tree in front of his home, McLaren Lodge in Golden Gate Park,” said Phil Ginsburg, SF Rec and Park General Manager. “We are proud to continue this heartwarming family tradition and celebrate the holiday season with our fellow San Franciscans," he said.
The lighting of trees as we know it today can be traced back to the 1800's as candles were used to illuminate the branches. Kathleen Iudice, media rep for the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, pointed out that It was in the Victorian Era when Christmas trees became a more permanent fixture of the holiday season, going from a European home custom to an American tradition.
The tree lighting in the Park is perhaps in perfect timing for the SF Museum and Historical Society's annual Holiday Tea which will take place on Dec. 7, the following day. Cast members of the Great Dickens Christmas Fair, now going on until Dec. 23rd will perform to add to the Victorian flavor. A holiday tree while some historians say originated in Germany with either St. Boniface or Martin Luther, it gradually made its way to other parts of Europe and then was brought to the US.
Candles on each branch was the way in which families lit a Christmas Tree, some continuing this way well into the early part of the 20th Century. Candles easily caused trees to catch fire. Tossing a tree out the door that happened to catch fire was common, so trees at home were small. In 1882, Edward Johnson an associate of Thomas Edison and vice president of the then Edison Electric Light Company, had special electric light bulbs made for his tree which he officially displayed at his home that December on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Interestingly, it wasn't until 1930, a year after the inauguration of the "City Tree" at McLaren Lodge that electric lights for Christmas trees in the home were introduced.
Since that time holiday tree lights and tree lighting ceremonies have become a routine to the holiday schedule of events everywhere across the nation and in various parts of the world.
For San Francisco's tree lighting event, there were carnival rides, cookie factory, arts and crafts for kids, visit from Santa, and live entertainment. “San Francisco is committed to providing more opportunities for our families to enjoy our parks and open space," said Mayor Lee.
The 83rd annual Holiday Tree Lighting is part of SF Rec and Park’s overall efforts to better serve the diverse families in San Francisco. And, Rec. and Park has much to celebrate this December with the recent re-dedication of the totally renovated Sunset Playground on Lawton Street in the City's Sunset District. By hosting seasonal citywide family events such Eggstravaganza in Spring, Play Day on the Green in Summer, Scaregrove in Fall, and Holiday Tree Lighting in Winter, SF Rec and Park makes San Francisco a friendlier place for children and families.