An estimated 5,000 people attended Hesperia's Christmas tree lighting Thursday.


The 20th annual Christmas tree lighting, a joint collaboration between Hesperia Recreation and Park District and the City of Hesperia, was the first at the new Hesperia Civic Plaza Park, located behind Hesperia City Hall and the Hesperia Community Library.


Families strolled with children in tow; children rode in wagons and on shoulders and couples joined hands. A few dogs were even present for the festivities. Lines formed for free popcorn and hot chocolate.


The crowd gathered before the park's amphitheater, singing Christmas carols along with choirs from Hesperia Christian School and waiting for the lighting of the tree.


"Times are tough right now, [with the] loss of jobs, [and the] pinch of the recession," Mayor Thurston "Smitty" Smith told the crowd. "If you're alone, call another person who is also alone."


"Is everyone warm out there?" Hesperia Recreation and Park District General Manager Cal Camara asked the assembled crowd. "I have a few knock-knock jokes: What's the first thing elves learn in school? The 'elf' a-bet."


Finally, the countdown began -- "Three, two, one!" -- and the tree was aglow with lights and a North Pole directional sign lit up, pointing the way to Santa's workshop.


Camara and Assemblyman Anthony Adams led the crowd in singing "Here Comes Santa Claus." Then, with sirens blasting and lights flashing, Santa and Mrs. Claus rode up on a fire engine.


Sharon Strickland can be reached at 956-7827 or at sharon@hesperiastar.com.