It was a message of inclusion and unity that kicked off the fourth annual Maple Valley Hometown Holidays and Tree Lighting event on Thursday, December 6. Hundreds gathered in the square at Four Corners, huddled together against the cold, to hear the Mayor’s welcome and listen to messages about the importance of community, hometown values and respecting diversity in the ever-growing city of Maple Valley, before watching the magnificent Spruce light up for the first time this holiday season.
The City Manager, Laura Philpot, introduced Mayor Sean P. Kelly, who was joined by the Maple Valley city councilors. Mayor Kelly first recognized guests from Puget Sound Fire Authority, former council members, the Maple Valley police department, and event coordinators before relinquishing the mic to Director of the Maple Valley Parks Department, Dave Johnson. Johnson recognized the generous sponsors who helped make the event possible, with Brightest Star Sponsors Fred Meyer and Johnson’s Home and Garden topping the list. [Full list of sponsors here]
Next, the city councilors took turns talking about the upcoming events of the evening, beginning with a brief history on the time honored tradition of national tree lighting, and the hope and peace that the holiday season brings.
“No matter our faith or background, this time of year evokes feelings of family and community. We realize that people celebrate a variety of holidays this time of year,” said councilor Syd Dawson. “Whether it’s Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Diwali, the Solstice, a Festivus for the Rest of Us, or something else, and some people who choose to celebrate none, we encourage you to embrace and be respectful of these differences by taking an interest in your neighbor’s traditions and making them feel welcome.”
Mayor Kelly returned to thank everyone who helped put on the event, and offer closing remarks. “The holidays are a time for joy with family, friends, celebrating and blessings that we all have going on right now.” Then the countdown began, the tree was lit, and the evening’s celebrations were officially underway.
Frosty the Snowman, Santa himself and the Grinch were all rumored to be hanging around the Fred Meyer parking lot near the spruce tree, while Wilderness Animal Hospital’s real reindeer exhibit could be found across the street in the Johnson’s Home and Garden lot. A brightly lit kiddie train transported excited groups of youngsters around the parking lot, passing by Panera Bread, Grocery Outlet, Discovery Playtown and more before returning to the station.
After making their way through the tents with Maple Valley Bar and Grill serving snacks, and Fairway Mortgage offering light vision glasses, event attendees shuffled inside Johnson’s Garden Center, where they were treated to beautiful holiday music by Maple Valley Youth Symphony Orchestra. Further along, one of the longest lines of people was for balloon animals from Kriss Chiropractic. Discovery Playtown invited community members inside for a holiday card crafting event. Kids of all ages used stickers, stamps, crayons, markers and glue to make the perfect card. They were allowed to bring their cards home, or, if they wanted, they were invited to put their card in Discovery Playtown’s mailbox, for delivery straight to the North Pole.
Tahoma School District offered transportation between events, and Santa arrived by fire truck.
Panera Bread had a cookie decorating station, Maple Valley Modern Denistry offered a corn hole game, and Steamboat Studio offered craft tutorials for shivering, albeit excited, youngsters as the evening wore on. Maple Valley Police were handing out sticker badges and taking pictures with aspiring future law enforcement officials and adoring fans alike, and Cascadia Kids Dentistry had a majestic trolley ride whisking passengers around the parking lot throughout the evening. Generational Hope Church featured a live nativity, Fred Meyer offered face painting, and there were hot drinks to fight against the cold and delicious holiday treats for people to enjoy at every turn.
The only thing missing from this magical holiday event was a bit of snowfall. However, when asked if it was something they would enjoy, several local kids attending the event said yes, while most of the adults accompanying them gave a resounding “No!”. Clearly snow isn’t a requirement for a perfect holiday evening, because despite the cold, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves for the entire evening.
While the population and landscape of Maple Valley have changed over the years, the hometown spirit has not, and the success of the annual Hometown Holidays events proves the city still retains the sense of community that makes it so special.