SALEM — The jolly man with the red suit made his appearance in Washington Square Friday evening for the city's annual tree lighting. Excited crowds gathered to experience this festive event, hosted by Salem Main Streets, which comes only once a year.
Locals, as well as tourists, come to see the tree lighting, according to the man himself, Santa. Joining him Friday was Salem’s Mayor Kim Driscoll, as well as the Gill family, who donated the tree. Ringing around the Hawthorne Hotel, people from far and wide eagerly awaited the big moment.
“It’s our first year at the tree lighting," said Joe Joyner, 38, who was there with his wife Natalie, 31, and their baby, George. "It is a new tradition for us. We hope George reacts to Santa’s arrival.”
Chicago residents Alison Harrington, 55, and family member Christo Maheras, 15, were also in the audience but they weren't newcomers to the tree lighting. Harrington said she's related to the owners of the hotel. “We have taken the kids here since they were babies to enjoy the festivities,” she said.
But for Nick Perry, the owner of Emporium 32 at 6 Central St., this event is a close tie with Salem's big holiday, Halloween. Perry, 37, calls the tree lighting, “Salem’s weirdest tradition.”
Crowds screamed with excitement as Santa appeared at the top of the Hawthorne Hotel. He was then escorted down from the roof by the Salem Fire Department's tower ladder truck, as he bellowed a cheerful "ho, ho, ho!" to the crowd, full of children smiling with delight, below. After reaching the ground, he led a procession across the Essex Street pedestrian mall over to Lappin Park, where the tree awaited.
Zach and Josh Plonski, twins, along with their parents Ree, 50, and Stan Plonski, 49, were among the crowd. “We are here visiting for the first time to enjoy the holiday festivities,” said Ree Plonski.
“My grandchildren come here every single Friday night after Thanksgiving,” said Salem resident Kathy Acker, 72, smiling proudly. “We come and see Santa come down, which is very exciting, and we walk and watch the lighting of the tree. Salem is a great community.”