Thirty years of holiday cheer will be celebrated Friday evening as the newly planted Lee Walker Tree will have its inaugural lighting.

The new tree, which is replacing the previous starlet of the same name, is a Nellie R. Stevens holly tree and isn’t quite as impressive as the previous tree — at least not yet.

“The tree we had for many years started to disintegrate and become in poor health, so we had to replace it, and of course we replaced it with a tree that will grow to be as magnificent as the other one,” said Michelle Boerst.

Boerst, 51, is serving her first year as chairwoman of the Denton Holiday Lighting Association.

This year’s Denton Holiday Lighting Festival will kick off Friday at 5:30 p.m. with a performance by the Denton Community Band. At the conclusion of the performance, the young winner of the Denton Record-Chronicle coloring contest, with a little help from Santa Claus, will light the Lee Walker holly.

An evening of dazzling lights, live music and local participation will welcome any who choose to stick around.

Light up the night

According to Boerst, Denton County handled the replacement of the Lee Walker Tree, performed tree maintenance and hired a company to handle lighting of the tree. “So I really have very little to do with the actual lighting of the tree,” she laughed. “Just everything around it.”

Boerst, along with her association, work with the city of Denton to arrange police help and street closures and with Denton County for everything that happens on the Courthouse on the Square lawn, including tree decorations.

“It’s an interesting collaboration,” she said.

Santa will take a break from taking pictures with kids and “fur babies” to accompany the lucky child who will “flip the switch” to illuminate both the tree and the courthouse.

Dancing and prancing in Jingle Bell Square

More than 20 bands, choirs and dance companies will perform throughout the evening.

Perhaps the most notable participant in years past is the Denton Community Band, led for the past 40 years by Carol Lynn Mizell. Beginning at 5:30 p.m., the band will lead anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 people through Christmas carols.

Listeners will hear secular and religious songs alike, including “Jingle Bells,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and more.

“The kiddos in particular, I think, enjoy singing along on those,” Mizell said.

Lyrics to carols were included in the Nov. 9 edition of the Record-Chronicle, but extra copies will be available to those who need a refresher on the words, Mizell said.

“Where else could you stand and sing Christmas carols with 5,000 of your closest friends?” she asked. “It’s a wonderful thing.

“We’ve got a new Christmas tree this year — it’s small. We’ve got to sing a lot and help it grow.”

The event brings nostalgic, community-laden memories to her: “It’s just a picture out of a Norman Rockwell painting.”

O come, all ye faithful

Among the various local businesses and organizations, Saint David of Wales Episcopal Church is one of the most stalwart participants, according to Boerst.

Father Paul Nesta, 30, has only been the priest since the beginning of August, but he’s already been acquainted with how important the event is for Denton and his congregation.

He said, “I think it’s important for churches to be involved in the community,” even if involvement is not religious.

It’s a way to show the community that Saint David’s cares.

In particular, Father Paul seemed interested in the traditional wassail competition. Explaining that his denomination hails from the United Kingdom, he said, “As good anglophiles, it would be appropriate to go wassailing with the best of them, I suppose.”

All they want for Christmas is you

With upwards of 17,000 people expected to turn out this year, readers should plan ahead where to park. Parking maps can be found on the Denton Holiday Lighting Festival website and the group’s Facebook page.

The event is funded entirely through donations and sponsorships.

Donations for next year’s event can be given through the group’s website.

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