City: No animals at the 27th annual tree lighting ceremony

By Gregory Woods

CHARLESTON, S. C. (WCIV) -- During the day, Marion Square is a place known for hanging out with friends and soaking in the sun while relaxing on the grass.

But that changed on Friday when light bulbs, sleighs, ornaments and Christmas trees turned the park into a holiday wonderland on the eve of the 27th annual Tree Lighting Ceremony.

"I always watch the movies and see the tree lighting ceremonies take place in Madison Square Garden," said Kathryn Varn, a local resident attending the event on Saturday. "I think it's cool that we have our own little Charleston tradition as well."

It's a tradition full of Christmas songs, stories, skits and Santa Clause lighting the 60-foot Christmas tree in the middle of the park.

But there is one tradition that's changing.

After a mishap a year ago, this year's tree lighting ceremony will be animal-free.

"Sometime near the end of the story, one of the confetti cannons spooked the giraffe, and when the giraffe got spooked, it spooked the crowd too," said Ryan Cockrell, who attended the event last year.

The annual Christmas event in past years has had camels and other animals to spice up the ceremony, but last year's incident was reason enough for Director of Cultural Affairs of Charleston County, Scott Watson, to make the decision to leave the animals in the barn.

"The spectacle of having animals was just an additional layer of complexity," said Watson. "And perhaps it was at the expense of what we were focusing on, which is coming together as a community to kick off the holiday."

Watson said this year's ceremony will focus on other events happening this holiday season.

"We've invited groups that specifically have recitals, concerts and dance performances coming up in the next few weeks with the hope people will come out here for the tree lighting then buy a ticket to a recital," Watson said.

It's all to make sure the Christmas spirit is alive and well, which adds another component to enjoy at Marion Square.