Two decades ago, about 3,000 people came together in Campus Martius for the first Detroit tree lighting. This year, the Merry & Bright – 20 Years of Holiday Lights event brought 100,000 into the city on Friday night and thousands more for a full weekend of entertainment, activities, and Christmas cheer.
“On Friday we officially kicked off the holiday season tradition in the best and most vibrant public square in the U.S.,” said Eric Larson, CEO of the Downtown Detroit Partnership.
To commemorate year twenty, and to ring in the season Detroit-style, the event featured a live Skating
Spectacular and Ice Show showcasing one of the biggest names in men’s figure skating Nathan Chen. Other professional skaters included five-time championship masters junior-senior men’s champion Daniel Palmeri, Anna Cobb, professional skater and choreographer from Flint, Michigan, Annabelle Wilkins who ranked third in the U.S. Intermediate level, and Brooklyn Wybo who received first place in many competitions last year.
The evening also included musical performances by Miko Marks, Paul Russel, Talia Suskauer, Drey Skonie, and more.
“Because this was the 20th anniversary, we pulled out all the stops,” says Laura Dean, Downtown Detroit Partnership Parks + Public Spaces Senior Manager.
This is our favorite event to plan and we work on it all year with a lot of thought and care. The way the event has grown mirrors the city of Detroit, which has come back and is flourishing.
Since the inception of the tree lighting two decades ago, DTE has been a proud sponsor. Says Rodney Cole, President of the DTE Foundation and DTE Corporate Citizenship, “This event is really meaningful to DTE. The DTE Foundation works to support initiatives that benefit the community where we all live and work. It’s important for us to be involved in things like this that truly bring the community together.”
Talent, Anna Cobb choreographed her own lyrical piece for the event calling it ‘classical skating.’
“Detroit is home for me and being asked to perform in this event – which is so important to the city – was really an honor,” she said.
The highlight of the evening was the arrival of Santa lighting up the 64-foot Michigan-grown Norway spruce decked out with ornaments and illuminated by more than 25,000 shimmering LED multi-colored lights.
“It’s always cool to be there when the tree arrives downtown – we call it “welcoming the tree,” says Cole. “We celebrate as the tree is set in place and for me, it signals the start of the season and great traditions with my family.”
The DDP keeps an eye out all year for just the right tree and this year’s tree comes from Kingsley, just south of Traverse City and east of Interlochen.
The weekend celebration included ice skating with Santa, an ugly holiday sweater party on the ice, an area for kids to write letters to Santa with a Santa mailbox on site, a Frozen skating performance, carriage rides, and more.
“We worked to expand the excitement this year and invite everyone down to enjoy this winter wonderland in Detroit,” said Dean.
“The success of the weekend and all the activity downtown that’s to come really is a perfect example of how far the city has come and where we are today,” said Cole.
When asked what each personally felt about the event, Cobb says,
It’s exciting to be part of that energy downtown, and skating outside at an event like this is just magical.
Dean says, “There is so much build-up throughout the year at the DPP for the tree lighting and the holiday season, it’s just really fulfilling to see it all come to fruition.”
And in closing Cole says, “This is a time to rekindle traditions and start new ones so come downtown with your family and friends.”
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