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Manteca lights up official Christmas evergreen
The Jingle Bell Rock dancers perform. - photo by HIME ROMERO
The ear-to-ear smile on the face of Inessa Villanueva could have been the first true sign of the holiday season.

With more than a dozen kids crowded around Mayor Willie Weatherford as he stood before the new community Christmas tree at the Manteca Civic Center, it was Villanueva that won a makeshift contest that allowed her to flip the switch to illuminate what is the city’s official symbol of the holiday season.

While she quickly ran off with friends while beaming from her experience, it didn’t take her mother long to realize that her daughter was involved in something special.

“I didn’t even know that was her up there – there were so many kids and I thought it was her friend that got to flip the switch,” a surprised Anita Villanueva said. “It’s good to see the kids out here having a great time and taking part in a tradition.

“Events like this help build a sense of longing here in the community, and while it’s only our second year I think that it’s going to become a tradition for our family. It was definitely a special treat to see Inessa smiling like that.”

As the families and residents began to crowd around in front of the Council Chambers, Eva McHenry exchanged laughs with friends while donning her seasonally appropriate Santa hat – waiting patiently for the festivities to officially begin.

It might have been the tree lighting and the following community caroling session at the Manteca Senior Center that brought McHenry out to the event, but being part of something that helps create a community identity, she said, was an even bigger part of why she braved the cold to spend time with her fellow Mantecans.

“It’s a wonderful event for families who want to come out and share this experience with their children,” McHenry said. “Especially when you throw in the chance that the kids will get to meet Santa and sing the carols that mean so much to them this time of year.

“It truly is a family-oriented event, and to be honest, we need to have more family-oriented events like this in our community – it goes a long ways fostering a community spirit and giving families the chance to bond during the most important time of year.”

And after more than two decades as one of the night’s main attractions, former mayor and longtime community advocate Jack Snyder was on hand for his annual reading of “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas” – an event that has become a favorite of children and adults alike in his long tenure before the massive Senior Center crowd.

“When you look out there and you see all of those kids with those smiling faces showing that sense of anticipation of what’s to come later this month – that’s what keeps me coming back every year,” Snyder said. “I’m just pleased and honored that I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of something like this for as long as I have.”