After putting in-person activities on hold for a year, the City of San Fernando was ready to bring back its annual Holiday Tree Lighting Celebration in full swing before thousands of festival goers.

The ceremony was part of the Holiday Outdoor Market produced by the San Fernando Mall Association. It included more than 70 vendors, live music and dance performances, a Classic Car display and, of course, the opportunity to have pictures taken with Santa. 

But as has happened in past years with this event, not everything went as planned with the lighting of the tree.

After starting a countdown with the crowd, City officials attempted to turn on the tree’s lights — to no avail. After a minute of awkwardness and laughs and groans from the crowd, the source of the problem was found: an unplugged connection.

After the momentary embarrassing Grinch, er glitch, the lights came on and the festive night continued. 

For anyone who knows the history of this event, the designated tree has been a bit of a debacle each year with some referring to it as a “Charlie Brown Tree.”  It’s not the first time the lights failed at the countdown or had a bigger issue making it a bit of a humorous tradition to see if the tree lights will work as the crowd counts down or will survive through the holiday.

One year, attempting to address the lack of a regal tree, the city made a large tree purchase from a northern state but after planting it soon learned that the tree could not survive in a warm climate. The suffering tree shriveled, and City officials attempted to hold up its wilting branches by surrounding it with what looked like orthopedic braces to get through the event.

This year’s Christmas tree was donated and decorated by the San Fernando Loan company.

Those attending, however, were unaware of the history and seemed pleased to walk through the outdoor mall for the Dec. 4 celebration. Most complied with the City’s mask requirement.

The main stage was set up at the intersection of San Fernando Road and South Maclay Avenue, where various dance groups and musicians performed. Directly across the street was a line of parked classic cars for passersby to admire.

In between, at the mall’s entrance, stood the titular tree,  adorned with holiday lights.

“What we wanted to do is give an opportunity for the community to come out,” said Julian Venegas, director of Recreation and Community Services. “We wanted to make it a place where people come out and say, ‘yes, it’s a good time.’”

Traditionally held on Brand Boulevard and San Fernando Road, the holiday event was moved to the outside mall  this year. According to Venegas, the decision was made to highlight the businesses on the mall as well as expand the amount of available space used for the event.

Venegas said that future celebrations would likely also take place at the city’s outdoor mall.

“When we were at Brand, it was very tight and we [were] only on one side of the street, so it was really, really congested,” Venegas explained. “It was a good event, people enjoyed it, but it was really tight and I think moving into the mall allows us to spread out.”

Two “Nutcracker” Tin Soldiers were seen dancing on stilts to the beat of Mexican music being played by a band nearby. At one point, a bicyclist decked out in Oakland Raiders gear joined in and the group of three grooved their way down the mall as onlookers cheered them on.

The event got an additional boost of holiday cheer with the arrival of Santa Claus. After saying a few words onstage thanking city officials and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, he made his way through the crowd and waved at the ever-growing group of enthusiastic children, each looking forward to taking a picture with him.

Upon reaching his chair and singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” along with the excited crowed, he began posing for pictures with dozens of families.

Beyond jolly old St. Nick and the musical acts, vendors set up with a variety of holiday gift items that included graphic T-shirts, jewelry, and for your favorite friend — dog bandanas. One booth, hosted by the city’s Chamber of Commerce, handed out free dolls; another booth, hosted by the Recreation and Community Services, hosted a Santa’s workshop where helpers made cardboard reindeer hats for the kids.

Students from the local  Fox Studio of Dance and Gymnastics were among the performers on the main stage. 

“I did ask if we could perform and they looked into it and had a time slot for us,” Susan Maryn, Fox Studio Director said.  “It doesn’t take much convincing for [the kids]. They love to perform.”

At the other end of the mall was artist Just Tonii, who sang a few tunes at the Radio Ollin KROJ booth. He had already performed at other places in Long Beach and Palmdale, but this was his first time singing at San Fernando’s holiday event. 

Enthused by the reception, Just Tonii said he wants to keep coming back.

“This was definitely one of the bigger crowds that I had,” he said. “Every year I want to come. I want to do it on the big stage next year.”

For guests new and old, the night — was a pleasant one.

“I think it’s lovely,” said Stephania Gordillo, who heard about the event on Instagram, and enjoyed the evening with her friends and son. “It’s so cute, so special. We walked up and down the street, we ate food, took pictures with Santa. It was a lot of fun.”

The outdoor event attracted 5,000 attendees, according to the event planners.

Editor Diana Martinez contributed to this article. Photos by Gabriel Arizon and SFVS Staff.