If ever there were an event that cried out for hot chocolate, Saturday’s annual Christmas tree lighting was it.
It was a mere 30 degrees with gusts of north wind by the time Santa and his band of elves flipped the switch and lit up the 65-foot-tall tree in front of Tacoma’s Pantages Theater on South 9th Street and Broadway. In the half-hour before, two of the Pantages’ Broadway neighbors moved through the crowd of hundreds, giving away small warm comforts.
Two employees of Le Noir Bazaar handed out dozens of pairs of gloves with a business card and coupon attached. Graham Babbit, who opened True North Coffee House just six weeks ago, filled cup after cup with steaming hot chocolate made with melted chocolate and True North’s vanilla syrup.
Babbit, along with his employee, Kate Marez, said it was simply a neighborly thing to do.
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“This is our community,” he said. “Everyone should hand out hot chocolate.”
Cal and Brandy Beekman of Parkland took a cup and reflected on how this was the first time Cal, who grew up in Tacoma, had seen the tree lighting. Why this year?
“We got a car,” Cal Beekman said. They made the purchase only after Pierce Transit’s bus service cuts made it almost impossible for them to get to work and church.
The 69th annual tree lighting ceremony was hosted by the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, which manages the Pantages among other properties. The tree is donated by Joint Base Lewis-McChord and decorated by the City of Tacoma’s Public Works department.
The party began in late afternoon, with music from the 56th Army Band and photos with Santa Claus.
The Bouchard family was first in line to meet the old elf. Casey Bouchard, age 8, said the family has come to the tree lighting for at least six years. That sounded right to his sister, Elise, age 6. Along with their younger brother Andrew, age 4, they knew exactly what gift they planned to ask for. They also imagined Santa would bring their father, Ryan, the Universal Parent Gift:
“A coffee mug!”
Minutes before the tree’s lights came on, 4-year-old Alexia Ouellet was savoring the end of a perfect chilly day.
It started with the morning flurries: “I love to fall in the snow,” she said. Then, clutching a small paper cup:
“This is my second cup of hot chocolate, and I’ve seen Santa two times!”
Karen Kostner, Denice Faust and Cheryl Barsness thought they’d wrap up the evening with something a bit stronger.
“I hope there’s a hot buttered rum in our future,” Kostner said.