In 2020, despite the COVID pandemic, children and parents visited the Fort Jackson annual Holiday Tree Lighting ceremony where they met with Santa. (Josephine Carlson)

by Alexandra Shea, Fort Jackson Public Affairs

The night and spirits on Fort Jackson will light up Friday during the annual Fort Jackson Tree Lighting ceremony.

“We are very grateful for the opportunity to do something for our community,” said Christine Voegele, Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Non-appropriated Funds chief and event coordinator. “It’s a lot of fun. DFMWR as a whole has worked very hard for us to get the opportunity to do community events like this.”

The evening of events will kick off at 5 p.m. at the corner of Strom Thurmond Boulevard and Marion Avenue with a drawing for children, volunteers also known as elves will hand out toys and food trucks will offer snacks and hot beverages.

The more than 30-foot spruce tree covered with lights, decorations and gleaming star on top will takes center stage among the reindeer, life-sized nutcrackers and Santa’s letterbox and oversized chair.

“Santa will make his return this year,” said John Keegan, Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation chief of marketing. “Santa has been online talking to kids on the DFMWR Facebook page.”

Before Santa’s arrival, the official lighting ceremony will take place featuring the C.C. Pinckney Elementary School Choir, 282nd Army Band, Chaplain’s benediction, announcement of the ginger bread house competition winners, and guest speaker who will also light the tree.

After the ceremony concludes, Santa will arrive. While Santa is invited to attend the ceremony, his usual escort of nine reindeer will remain cozy and warm at the North Pole. Fort Jackson has a strict “No-Fly Zone” policy. Instead, Santa will be escorted by Fort Jackson’s Fire Department. Santa will be available to listen to each child’s wish list and to take photos.

“We will post a website where Families can download all the photos,” Voegele said. “We are there for a couple of hours.”

The final event of the evening will be Liberty Lights. All are invited to Marion Street Station where the entrance to the lights will be marked with signs. Families can board the trolley to enjoy the ride through the light displays. The event will be free of charge on Friday night.

“It was a big event last year and we are expecting more this year,” Keegan said. “I love it and look forward to this each year.”