By Ashley Rader
Cold, winter-like temperatures and snow flurries did not stop the crowds from gathering in downtown Elizabethton to celebrate the start of the 2013 holiday season with the lighting of the Fraser fir community Christmas tree.
Spectators began arriving around 5 p.m. to enjoy hot apple cider and hot chocolate from Bonnie Kate Café and the Friends of Sycamore Shoals. Pre-lighting entertainment officially began at 5:30 p.m., and was provided by former Miss Watauga Valley Brittany Kyte and the Elizabethton High School Chorus, who both sang Christmas carols. Elizabethton Star Publisher Mark A. Stevens was master of ceremonies for the night.
As the evening drew closer to the 6 p.m. lighting time, a large crowd gathered around the 78-foot-tall tree, which is close to 152 years old. The tree is believed to be the largest in Tennessee and the second largest in the country.
The Fraser fir tree was planted by Maj. Henderson Folsom in 1861 when he was building the home. A twin tree was planted on the opposite side of the sidewalk leading to the porch on the home, but did not survive.
Some of the spectators in the crowd were attending the tree lighting ceremony for the first time, including Rick King, who recently moved back to Elizabethton from Jacksonville, Fla. He came out to his first tree lighting with his 12-year-old son Christopher. Christopher has attended every year with his grandmother.
“It has been a really great night,” Rick said. “It is a good community event. I came with my mother. She comes every year.”
Christopher said he enjoys being able to come to the tree lighting each year with his family.
“I like the singing,” he said. “It is beautiful, especially when they light the tree. It is really tall. I have never seen one like that before, that shape and size. They say it is the biggest tree like that in the state.”