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Hundreds attend tree lighting event at Manteca Civic Center
Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford is all smiles as he looks up Thursday at the city’s official Christmas tree after getting some help from kids to flip the switch. - photo by HIME ROMERO
Anthony Baylock couldn’t have been happier when he walked up to the community Christmas tree with his foster mother Thursday night, and placed his ornament on a branch.

And his smile could have lit up the night sky when Mayor Willie Weatherford informed him in front of a crowd of more than 200 people that he had earned the right to light the tree at the end of the countdown – marking the 29th straight year that the community has gathered for the event at the Manteca Civic Center on West Center Street.

 “This is great because it allows all of us to be together,” said Kathy Valdez – Anthony’s foster mother. “And Anthony goes to school right down the street and we drive past this every day, so I’m sure he’s going to be pointing at the tree to let me know that his ornament is still there.”

Even with temperatures in the 40s Thursday night, families turned out en masse in the parking lot of City Hall for the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony. They marveled at the illuminated look of the city’s new tree that debuted last year in place of the shorter and more bulbous tree that had been used in the past that some had dubbed the “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree.

The event gave 10-year-old Isela DeLeon – who spent the early portion of the event laughing and spending time with her family – the chance to let her holiday spirit show a little bit early this year, and helped her put the true meaning of the season into perspective.

“To me Christmas is all about being around your family and spending time together and finding the joy that you get to take out of the holidays,” DeLeon said. “I like seeing how the tree looks – it’s so bright and it makes you want to smile and have fun because it’s Christmas and that’s what you do this time of year.”

Once the tree was lit, the large group gathered outside moved over to the Manteca Senior Center where the Manteca Senior Advisory Committee hosted the evening program. Former Manteca mayor and longtime councilman Jack Snyder was once again the anchor with his reading of “T’was the Night before Christmas” with all of the children present seated around him as he read the timeless poem.

Dancers from the Manteca Parks and Recreation Department program as well as the “Graffiti Sweeties” baton group also performed.

“What I love about this is the chance to see all of the families and all of the kids smiling,” said advisory board member Don Reed. “It’s a great chance for the community to come together, and I think it’s something that people really enjoy. We definitely enjoy putting this together.”