December 12, 2011
The Ketchum Christmas Tree Lighting: Finding the True Christmas Spirit

Finding that holiday cheer is always hard for me. I am no humbug but it's the way that this season gets blatantly commercialized, to the point at which retailers become the dictators of spirit, that offends my traditional sensibilities. Aren’t life’s greatest joys supposed to be priceless?

Yes, they are. And Ketchum’s Christmas Tree Lighting last Thursday night gave proof to that statement. The free event was the most honest and touching inauguration of the holiday season that I have ever witnessed, rekindling my lost affection for this time of year. Sure, the entire event was heartwarming but I had a particular affection for the gaggle of kids that sang carols, drank hot cocoa, waved to Santa and, somehow, drank more cocoa for over an hour. In fact my biggest smiles, and I’m sure the parents who were there will agree with me, came from watching these wide-eyed youngsters meet the Man in Red, possibly for the first time. And it didn’t cost a cent.

Before Santa made his entrance, the main attraction was the troupe of young carollers from the Pioneer Montessori School, who bobbed and crooned to their parents’ understandable delight for half an hour. Anyone who has seen kids (aged three to eight) sing in public knows what I mean. Many of them just stood nervously while an enthusiastic minority danced wildly. Fortunately, everyone in the crowd knew the words to “Jingle Bells” and naturally sang along. Needless to say, in tune or not, the performance was cute and successful.

By the choir’s end, Saint Nick had lapped the square in a fire engine at least three times. When he finally hopped down, the young crowd was ready to swarm. There was no line, this was not a suburban mall-gathering, and swarm they did. Luckily, Santa’s role was very simple: smile, hug, laugh. Photos were snapped – HO! HO! HO! – and tiny smiles made permanent.

I’m an unemployed college grad in a bad economy who just moved to town and doubts flying reindeer, and I couldn’t wipe the stupid grin off my face. But, as I gazed around me, neither could the other adult gatherers.

Finally, came the main event. Turning toward the over-sized pine in the center of Ketchum Town Square, the crowd chanted in merry unison: “5…4…3…2…1” The lights burst on, a simple glow and the evening was over. Crowds lingered near the fires, near Santa, but everyone had already gotten what they’d come for: the priceless unearthing of Christmas cheer with friends and family.

So thanks, city of Ketchum, for putting on the kind of inclusive event that would make anyone, of any age, feel good to have moved to your community.