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Christmas tree highlights season’s true gift: Family

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A family gathers under the tree – lit up in spectacular colors – during Thursday’s annual Manteca Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony at the Manteca Senior Center.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED December 6, 2013 12:10 a.m.

Three. Two. One.


It took a minute for the City of Manteca’s Christmas tree to light up Thursday night after Mayor Willie Weatherford – and his special “button pusher” Mia Blancarte – reached the end of their countdown, but that didn’t prevent the standard chorus from erupting from the crowd when the colored strands finally did illuminate behind them.


Roughly 100 people braved the cold temperatures Thursday to come partake in an annual community tradition that has united families and brought out-of-town guests for years.

Blancarte came from Ripon with her grandmother, Julie Bertram, after hitting the tree lighting in their own town earlier this week. The biting temperatures weren’t enough to keep the spirited Bertram – a grandmother to 15 with two more expected soon – away from something that she loves.

“It’s nice to see all of the people getting together and the kids getting to put the bulbs on the tree,” she said. “It was great seeing my granddaughter get to light up the tree. I like this time of year because you get to spend time with family and I love getting to watch the faces of the kids as they open their presents.”

Inessa Villanueva knows what it’s like to be in Blancarte’s shoes.

The 10-year-old got the opportunity a few years ago to be the lucky child that Weatherford picked to carry out the tree-lighting honors, and just talking about the experience in front of her mother and younger brother was enough to make her smile from ear-to-ear.

But it’s not just the presents that she enjoys about the Christmas season.

“I like having fun with my family,” she said. “I like the spirit of the season.”

Inside the senior center following the tree lighting, Nancy Lewis formally took the reins and carried on a tradition that was long carried out by former Mayor and Councilman Jack Snyder – the annual reading of “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.”

But she did it with a modern tech twist.

On the drop-down screen behind her, illustrated images from the iconic book cycled as she made it through Clement C. Moore’s timeless story about children waking up to discover that they had been visited by St. Nicholas – penned back in 1823.

For Jackie Hillman, hearing the story has become somewhat of a tradition in her family, and getting to share that with her grandchildren is something that she was proud to do.

“Events like these are special because they bring the family together,” she said. “That’s what this season is all about.”

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