Tree lighting ceremonies create memories

A sense of community, good will towards all and traditions carry on for generations

The start of the holiday season can be debatable. To many merchants, Christmas and Halloween decorations should line the shelves in tandem. To others, it’s when the Thanksgiving leftovers are put away and Black Friday kicks off holiday buying spree.

In Atlanta it was always a lighting of a Christmas tree. The tree at Rich’s, to be exact. Rich’s first put a 75-foot tree atop its roof in 1948 and the ceremony was so popular that it became a televised event watched by thousands who couldn’t make it downtown. It was tradition for generations of Atlantans. In 1999, Macy’s took over the lighting ceremony at Lenox Square, which attracted thousands as well as a number of television and recording stars. This year Macy’s tree lighting ceremony was a private one with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta.

Today, there is no one specific lighting ceremony Atlanta that kicks off the season, but there are several around the metro area and all serve the same purpose — to create memories and a sense of community.

David Cochran, president and CEO of Paces Properties, remembers going to the tree lighting ceremony at Vinings Jubilee with his father, who developed the property, and now brings his own four children.

“The tree lighting has been a part of my whole life and it’s the first real tree lighting we’ve had post COVID so there will be a real sense of normalcy. This tree lighting is about creating a moment where everyone in the community and from afar can come. There’s no expense associated with it. We always prioritize the experience over the bottom line. My dad’s intent was to create a community touchstone where everyone can truly come together, have a great time and feel good.”

Sara Hemmer, director of marketing for North American Properties, says it also is creating a family tradition at its three properties at the recently purchased Forum, Avalon and Colony Square. “Especially in the past few years it’s been more evident that we crave a sense of community and the spirit of Christmas. We want to provide that holiday magic that brings everyone together. It’s truly magic.”

Like many others, there are a variety of events prior to the lighting. “Everyone knows that the Sunday before Thanksgiving, the ice skating rink will open, Santa will come and we’ll light the tree. We also have a menorah lighting at Avalon and the Forum.”

Credit: The Battery Atlanta's Facebook

Credit: The Battery Atlanta's Facebook

The Lighting of Avalon, presented by Northside Hospital, starts on Nov. 20 with Activity Row with face painting, balloon art and other activities, and the rink opens at 1 p.m. along with seasonal performances from local entertainers, including Davis Academy and the Atlanta Dance Theater. Santa starts the countdown and a 40-foot tree will be lit at 7 p.m.

“You just feel the excitement building and then Santa drives up and the crowd gets going,” she says.

The Lighting at Colony Square is a two-day event. The lighting ceremony takes place on Dec. 2 with an honorary tree lighter from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The complex also offers nightly tree lighting shows, where on every hour, the tree will come alive with colorful lights and festive music.

On Dec. 3 there are a variety of activities, culminating in the Children’s Holly Jolly Celebration, a parade, that features exciting street activations, comment performances, roaming characters and additional entertainment on Peachtree Street between 14th and 15th streets.

Hemmer says that more than 12,000 come together from the Avalon ceremony with the Colony Square events and parades attract upwards of 60,000 to 100,000.

Credit: Chris Roughgarden

Credit: Chris Roughgarden

To Cochran, it’s all about traditions, including Santa coming to the event on a fire truck. “We want people to have nostalgic moments, like the tree. It’s old and we need a new tree, but they’re so darn expensive. We just duct tape it and make it happen. It’s just a fun way to walk around, see your neighbors and get a small-town feel. It warms your heart and brings the joy of the season.”

George Connell has brought his two children to the Vinings Jubilee lighting for years. “They’re teenagers now and they’re happy to come with me — sometimes. It’s very nostalgic. It warms your heart when you do things like this over and over. You’re just trying to build memories with your children and this is a way of fostering that connection.

Here are some tree lighting ceremonies around metro Atlanta.

Light the Station. 7:50 p.m. Nov. 19. Free. Atlantic Station. 1380 Atlantic Drive, Atlanta. 404-410-4010,

The Lighting of Avalon. 1 p.m.- 7 p.m. Nov. 20. Free. 9000 Avalon Blvd., Alpharetta. 770-765-2000,

Tree Lighting presented by Wellstar. 5:30-8:30 p.m. Nov. 26. Free. The Plaza at Battery Atlanta, 755 Battery Ave. SE, Atlanta. 404-494-1150,

Coming Home for the Holidays. 5-9 p.m. Nov. 29. City Hall, 2800 King St., Smyrna. 404-240-6240,

Marietta Square Christmas Tree Lighting. 4-8 p.m. Dec. 1. Free. 50 N. Park Square, Marietta. 770-794-5606.

Vinings Jubilee Christmas Tree Lighting. 6-8 p.m. Dec. 1. Free. Vinings Jubilee at Tower Stage, 4300 Paces Ferry Road, 770-434-2400,

Colony Square. 1197 Peachtree St., Atlanta. 6 p.m. Dec. 2. Free. 404-965-9091,

Deck the Hall. 2-7 p.m. Dec. 3. Free. Duluth Town Green, 3142 Hill St., Duluth. 770-623-3600,