Over 300 people attended the 40th annual Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony that was organized by Denise Marchant and friends on Friday evening, November 29, at 6:00 pm at Centennial Park in downtown Porterville.

The park gazebo was decorated with holiday lights Christmas decor highlighting the word “Love” which was the “Love of Christmas” theme. The traditional community event marks the opening of the Christmas holiday season.

“I’ve been coming to this event since I was a teenager,” said Pam Freeman, “and I enjoy the community coming together to bring in the real meaning of the season.” Her husband, Richard, said, “I appreciate the different ministry organizations that have come together to organize this event.”

Jo Nell Mauck was with her husband Ronnie, who was making cocoa to serve, which was provided by The Gathering, a community ministry. She said, “I always enjoy coming to the annual Christmas Tree lighting ceremony.”

Porterville Councilmember Virginia Gurrola and her husband Sal, sat on a bench, with their granddaughter Justyne Gurrola, and twin great-granddaughters. Virginia said, “This is a great start for the Christmas season.”

Porterville Community Strings played holiday music, after which vocalists Elyse Willis and Chris Willis sang “Christmas Needs Love to Be Christmas.”

Denise Marchant welcomed the increasingly large crowd to the ceremony and spoke about the history of the tree lighting ceremony and how it progressed and changed through the years, from a candlelit caroling procession down Main Street on a one way street, to the pitfalls of walking with lit candles, and people not being able to hear the singing up front in the procession. Marchant spoke humorously and brought laughs from the crowd, before introducing Pastor Steve Walker who spoke about Thanksgiving and being thankful for the blessings of love brought to us by Jesus whose birth, 2000 years ago, we celebrate.

Denise Marchant, welcomed Mayor Martha Flores, Coucilmember Virginia Gurrola, and all the Porterville dignitaries present to the evening celebration.

Elyse Willis, Efrain Martinez, and Josh Day sang “Joy to the World” and led in a Community Sing, accompanied by the Porterville Community Strings.

Professional vocalists Elyse Willis and Efrain Martinez, Josh Day and Friends, and the Porterville Community Strings directed by Pam Aucutt, Deenie’s Dance Praise Team entertained the crowd with inspirational dance routines, “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Feliz Navidad” despite the freezing cold, including one with sign language. 

Josh Day played the guitar, and friends, Emmylou Dowling and Bobby Dowling sang “Noel” a beautiful piece of music written by Christian musician Lauren Daigel which the audience really enjoyed.

Pastor Steve Walker from Valley Oak Community Church spoke about the meaning of love, and put in some humorous anecdotes from children, about what they think love means. He then about the birth of Jesus, and his humble beginnings, especially that he was surrounded by animals, in an animal shelter, with more animals in attendance than people. Walker said the meaning of light and love of Christmas comes from Jesus himself, and our Christmas Trees represent that love and light.

Efrain Martinez read a Christmas newspaper Column written by Jimmy Bishop that spoke about no one making more of a mark on the world, be they high or low, than Jesus, who was born very humbly in a tiny town, but has made more of an impact on the world than anyone.

Elyse Willis and Martinez sang ‘O Holy Night’ and Marchant thanked Lupe Diaz who helped to decorate the park and gazebo and everyone who helped organize the ceremony and who donated food or toys.

She then signaled everyone to turn around and get ready for the tree lighting as they sang ‘Silent Night’ together. 

As ‘Silent Night’ drew to a close, giant deodar next to Porterville City Hall lit up and everyone was silent. It was a beautiful end to a lovely ceremony despite the blistering cold.

“The entire program was beautiful. Especially “Oh Holy Night,” and when we sang “Silent Night” and it was so quiet and then the tree lit up,” said Dr. Claudia Habib, President of Porterville College, who was with her husband Ghassane.

Patty Dowling and her daughter Emmylou were standing on the sidewalk with the Porterville Queen Madison Chapman, Sr. Princess Lili Rose Garcia, and 3rd Attendant Rebecca Keele. Patty said, “It was a wonderful event, and we come here every year. But I let my daughter Emmylou do all the singing.” 

Porterville Queen Madison Chapman said, “It was such an honor to be here and it was such a beautiful ceremony. We were so glad to attend and represent the City of Porterville.”

“I really enjoyed watching our community come together and sing,” said Sr. Princess Lili Rose Garcia, “and even enjoyed learning about the deep meaning of love.”

Rebecca Keele, the 3rd Attendant, said, “It was a great way to start off the Christmas season.”

“I’m really proud of these young ladies and their accomplishments,” said Kristin Chapman, Madison’s mother.

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