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Mantecas tree-lighting ceremony: A time for tradition & togetherness
The Great Valley Academy choir sings Christmas carols inside the Senior Center during Thursdays holiday festivities. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Tradition and togetherness. 

Those were the main reasons given by the scores of revelers who came to watch the annual lighting of the city’s Christmas tree at the Civic Center Thursday evening.

“It’s just tradition. We’ve been doing this since the kids were little,” said grandmother Deborah Herrera, who attended the holiday event with several of her children and grandchildren. The youngest of the grandkids was one-month-old Anahi Torres who slept through the entire program in the Senior Center which followed the tree-lighting, content in the arms of her mother, Heather Herrera. The baby’s 2-year-old brother was sprawled on the floor in front of the stage with dozens of other young children where they watched the performances.

“I brought him down last year and he liked it, too,” Heather said of her older son.

Three-generation families like the Herreras, and young couples like Travis and Nicole with their wide-eyed children in tow, made up the majority of the crowd that gathered for the annual holiday tradition.

“We came for the tree lighting,” smiled young father Travis (he did not give his last name), hugging his snuggly wrapped 11-month-old son while they joined the crowd gathered to watch the lighting of the tree in front of the Council Chambers.

“Our other son really loves it, too,” he said of 3-year-old Braylen, who was clutching mom Nicole’s hand as he stood, wide-eyed, at the base of the tree craning his small neck skyward and marveling at the massive tree’s twinkling lights.

“It’s a family thing that we do every year,” said Judy Polonco, who watched the indoor program at the Senior Center with daughter Trini Medrano and grandchildren Mia and Cesar Medrano. Sitting next to Judy was another granddaughter Ashley Polanco, who was holding her 6-month-old daughter, Kaliah.

Longtime Manteca resident Deana Dussau also brought her three-generation family to the festive occasion. “It’s all about friends and family … and the town getting together with friends creating a great atmosphere,” she said.

Some members of her large family – she has 48 grandchildren – were, in fact, part of the evening’s entertainment which started with the lighting of the tree and singing of Christmas carols outdoors, with the rest of the program taking place inside the Senior Center. Granddaughter Cameo, 19, a national and international baton-twirling champion, gave a special performance on stage which elicited oohs and aahs from an impressed audience, especially the young ones. Dussau’s daughter, Dandi Hicks, an instructor with the Manteca Parks and Recreation Department, also brought along some members of her baton-twirling class which included Dussau’s three grandchildren: Kaley, 9; Cipriana, 17, who is Miss Winter Manteca; and, Cameo.

The outdoor tree-lighting festivity was followed by refreshments, more singing, a close encounter with Santa, and listening to the reading of ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas by one of Santa’s elves, aka Nancy Lewis, in the Senior Center.

Other parts of the indoor entertainment included choral performances by Great Valley Academy elementary and junior high choirs directed by music teacher Phillip Fioro, and group singing led by members of the Manteca Youth Focus.

The lighting of the tree was led by newly installed Mayor Steve DeBrum and wife Rebecca with a crowd of enthusiastic young children surrounding them. Other city officials in attendance were first-time council members Mike Morowit and Richard Silverman who, with wife Linda, came dressed as Mr. and Mrs. Claus.