To kick off the holiday season, the city of Longview lit up Heritage Plaza on Sunday with red and green lights and a 23 1/2-foot Christmas tree at an event that organizers and patrons hope becomes an annual tradition.

Hundreds of people gathered for the Community Christmas Tree Lighting. Even in the cold, Dawna Williams said it was a good idea to come out.

She said she went to the event to “hear all of the pretty music and watch them light the tree for the first time this year.” More importantly, Williams said events such as the tree lighting bring the community together.

“You’ve got your (Partners in Prevention) mentors over here, and you’ve got all of the other different people that are trying to combine the community together. That’s why they built the Heritage Plaza ... and this is one of the big events that will help do that,” she said.

Guests also took part in free popcorn, cookies and hot cocoa, face painting, carriage rides, food trucks and live performances. When Main Street Coordinator Melida Heien started working for the city, she said this was an event she always wanted to plan.

“We really don’t have that downtown community Christmas kickoff like a lot of neighboring communities do, so I kind of felt like that we really needed to do something,” Heien said. “I hope that we start a tradition. ... The Sunday before Thanksgiving is our annual tree lighting that people will want to be a part of this every year. I hope it meets everyone’s expectations.”

As she waited for Santa Claus to light the tree, Judy Burleson said she gained a new friend.

“I’ve had a long conversation with a lady that I had never met before, and I’ve come to find out she’s almost a close neighbor. That probably wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t come,” she said.

The tree lighting was “nice (because) they have a lot of things for kids to do,” volunteer Jennifer Lange said.

“It’s the first Christmas tree lighting that I know of here in Longview,” she said. “(There’s) been a good turnout. There’s a pretty good amount of people here, so I definitely hope they keep it on.”

Reporter

Brittany Michelle Williams, a University of Arkansas alumna, serves East Texas as an education reporter at the News-Journal. She won Arkansas Press Association and Arkansas AP Media Editors awards for her work in El Dorado, Arkansas.