Perhaps it was the relatively balmy 50-degree weather or maybe a surge of holiday spirit, but whatever the reason, the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony last Thursday was the most well-attended in memory.

"We have a huge crowd this year," Lindsay Wood, administrative operations manager for the Hesperia Recreation and Park District, said minutes after the ceremony concluded. "We have 500 chairs, and they are all filled. We had standing room only. Maybe people have just a little better Christmas spirit this year."

One of Hesperia's most popular community events, the 19th annual tree lighting program featured seasonal music by local schools and organizations. The official program began with Hesperia Christian School singing songs followed by a set of carols by the Shenanigans. the Lighthouse Church Choir provided songs later in the program.

Cal Camara, general manager for the park district, which co-sponsored the event with the Little Country Church, then welcomed the district's furry mascot, "Bob Cat." The two exchanged a series of holiday-oriented jokes.

"What do snowmen wear on their heads?" Bob Cat whispered into Camara's ear. "Ice caps."
Camara introduced local dignitaries including Mayor Rita Vogler, State Assemblyman Anthony Adams, First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt and Park District Board President Mike Limbaugh.

The mayor urged attendees to take a minute to honor the families of armed services personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Merry Christmas, and may the New Year be bright," Vogler added.

Then Limbaugh led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Before leading the crowd in a countdown, Camara said, "In 19 years we've never had a fuse blow out."

The audience, which was munching on kettle corn courtesy of Flo's Kettle Corn, counted down "10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1," and the lights on the tree and miniature forest came on, just as planned.

With everyone singing "Here Comes Santa Claus," Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived on a fire engine. Then, perhaps as many as several hundred children and their parents got in a line to meet the jolly couple.