With the flip of a candy cane-shaped switch Saturday night, the holiday season began in Santa Maria.

City Recreation and Parks Department leaders, along with a special guest, kicked off the community’s Christmas celebrations on with the lighting of city's Community Christmas Tree.

This marked the sixth year the city has held the event.

“Every year, we look for someone in the community that may have faced some challenges during the year to come help us with our tree lighting,” said Recreation and Parks Department Director Alex Posada.

The city partners with the Mission Hope Cancer Center to select a tree-lighting honoree.

This year, 15-year-old Evelyn Cervantes was chosen to help light up the Christmas season.

Cervantes was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when she was 14 years old. She is currently in remission and part of Mission Hope’s cancer support group.

“I feel happy,” Cervantes said about being selected to move the tree light switch.

Cervantes’ mother, Maria, said she was pleasantly surprised and grateful to learn Evelyn had been chosen.

“We have gone through a lot with her this year. It has been upsetting at times going back and forth to the doctors. When they called me, I felt that I was not alone with all that she has been going through.”

Evelyn said she enjoys music and playing softball and hopes to grow up to be a lawyer someday.

The 24-foot Christmas tree, which stands in front of City Hall at Broadway and Cook Street, also kicked of 23rd annual Christmas Parade of Lights.

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Again this year, the Recreation and Parks Department is selling the opportunity to make the city’s holiday tree more festive with a special ornament.

Called the Holiday Spirit Project, Recreation and Parks officials along with its nonprofit support organization, People for Leisure and Youth (PLAY) Inc., are selling large ornaments that can be personalized and placed on the tree. The ornaments are $20. The fundraiser will continue throughout the holiday season.

The funds will go to help offset the cost of the city’s many recreational programs. For more information or to purchase an ornament, visit www.santamariaatplay.org.

The annual tree-lighting event has historically happened on the Friday before the annual Christmas parade, but city leaders wanted to bring the two events together.

“One of the things we try to do with the Christmas tree lighting is to make it a community event; so tonight is a little bit different as it is on Saturday the same night as the parade,” Posada said.

He also thanked this year’s tree-lighting event sponsor.

“These things don’t happen without community. We’d like to thank Honda of Santa Maria; they were the $2,500 sponsor this year.”

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.


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