Inaugural tree lighting draws crowd

More than 300 turn out in Sunnyside

Santa Claus listens closely as Little Miss Sunnyside Audrina Campos tells him her Christmas wishes last night during Sunnyside’s inaugural tree lighting event at Centennial Square.

Photo by Roger Harnack
Santa Claus listens closely as Little Miss Sunnyside Audrina Campos tells him her Christmas wishes last night during Sunnyside’s inaugural tree lighting event at Centennial Square.



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Dayanara Benitez, 11, of Sunnyside takes a selfie with Mrs. Claus.

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Al Smeenk leads the Sunnyside Christian students in Christmas carols.

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Zalia Huizar, 6, of Zillah, and Tirzah Aman, 5, of Prosser enjoy the festivities.

— More than 300 people warmed the downtown air last night for the city’s inaugural tree lighting ceremony in Centennial Square.

While the temperature hovered in the 30s, students sang songs, Santa and Mrs. Claus greeted children and the royal court officially plugged in the city’s Christmas tree.

John Perez, 62, of Toppenish, brought his grandson Malakai Perez, 13, of Prosser, to the event.

John Perez said he enjoys the Christmas season and attends events regionwide when he can.

“I’m a member of the Knights of Columbus,” he said. “We’ll be caroling at Toppenish nursing homes Dec. 22.”

The enjoyment of singing Christmas carols is a tradition Malakai Perez is carrying on.

“I’m singing with my choir tonight,” he said. “And I thought it would be nice to bring grandpa.”

Malakai Perez was one of about 60 Sunnyside Christian students performing Christmas songs at the inaugural event.

“I’m kind of nervous,” he said, prior to joining his classmates in the gazebo.

But not all youngsters were nervous, especially when Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived.

“I asked for a basketball,” said 8-year-old A.J. Ramos of Sunnyside.

“I want an Xbox One,” Little Miss Sunnyside Audrina Campos, 8, also of Sunnyside, said.

Youngsters asked the jolly ol’ elf for a variety of Christmas presents, Santa said.

Video games and basketballs were the most common requests, he said.

“It’s Sunnyside and it’s the Christmas tree lighting,” Santa said. “I had to be here.”

Campos said she came to represent the city but also because her Elf on the Shelf brought her.

“My Elf on the Shelf is here,” she said. “She hides in very funny places.”

City Clerk Deb Estrada called the event a success even before the caroling began and the tree was lit.

“This is the first year we’ve done the lighting of the Christmas tree,” she said, calling the turnout “wonderful.”

The tree lighting was the first of several events kicking off the Christmas season in downtown Sunnyside this weekend.

Mayor Jim Restucci, too, was excited about the turnout, calling the tree lighting a unifying community event.

“It’s important to remember why we do this,” he said. “I’m really excited.”

The mayor gave a quick speech, and offered the story of the first indoor Christmas tree in America.

“Let it be a symbol not only of our Christmas spirit, but also of hope,” he said.



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