Haley Pico crossed South Ninth Street at a run, shrieking as she spotted Santa Claus inside the Pantages Theater.
“It’s him!” she said, grabbing twin brother Kaden’s hand and pulling him to the doors, where they pressed their faces to the glass and stood on tiptoe, trying to catch another glimpse.
“This is a dialed-back response,” their mother, Emily, said Saturday. “Imagine a teen girl and Justin Bieber — that’s how Haley reacted to Santa last year.”
The 6-year-old twins were among the first to arrive for Tacoma’s 68th annual Holiday Tree Lighting, held each year on Broadway in front of the Pantages.
The Pantages has been the site of Tacoma’s holiday tree ceremony since 1945, when it began as a celebration of the end of World War II. This year’s 55-foot Douglas fir was harvested from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. It took crews from Maplewood Arbor Care and the city of Tacoma’s Public Works department three days to cut, set up and decorate the tree with hundreds of ornaments and thousands of lights.
Inside the theater lobby was hot cider, holiday music and the top elf himself.
The Pico twins were among hundreds of other hopelessly devoted fans — of the movie “Grease,” shown in singalong style just before the tree lighting, and of the holiday season.
Russell and Cori Spotts of Lakewood came to the tree lighting for the first time, though they’ve lived in the area for years. The motivating factor: their 17-month-old daughter, Eleanor.
“We’re making more family traditions now that we have her,” Cori said.
The crowd was one of the largest yet, said David Fischer, executive director of the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, which includes the Pantages. He estimated about 1,800 people attended the tree lighting.
“We’ve found the right recipe between the free event inside the lobby and a ticketed event that is family friendly,” Fischer said.
This year’s event was the “Grease” singalong, where the audience was encouraged to dress up like characters from the 1978 movie starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. The singalong ended as the holiday party began, so dozens of people in poodle skirts, leather jackets, ponytails and bobby socks mixed and mingled with those in holiday sweaters, Santa hats and reindeer antlers.
Doug and Angela Bordonaro of Woodinville brought their daughters, Katy, Alyssa and Zoey, to the singalong, then hung around for the tree lighting. It was a rare trip to Tacoma, Angela Bordonaro said, though they’ve been to the Museum of Glass and Zoolights.
The family, in full Pink Lady and T-Bird costume, was considering going out for dinner, though the girls weren’t sure they wanted to be seen in their pink poodle skirts.
The weather was mild Saturday evening when crowds started gathering. As Santa counted down before turning on the lights at 5:38 p.m., the rain started to fall. A brass quintet played “O Christmas Tree” as the crowd hummed along.
Or, as the “Grease” fans might have sung: It turned colder — that’s where it ends.