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Forsyth's Tree Lighting Tradition Continues

The 24th annual "Celebration of Lights Christmas Tree Lighting" event at Northside Hospital-Forsyth was held Saturday and had something for everyone: Santa, music, food, football scores, a helicopter transport and even a tear-filled reunion.

Emceed again by WSB-TV’s morning news anchor, Fred Blankenship, this year’s celebration ran smoothly, despite a hospital helicopter transport and missing elf. Pre-planning for the event began in September, according to Patricia Daniel of the Northside Hospital Foundation. An estimated 85 volunteers handled duties that ranged from greeting visitors to wearing elf costumes and passing cookie-laden patters.

This was the tenth celebration for the Forsyth campus of the hospital. It wasn’t until 2004, according to Katherine Watson, Senior Public Relations Specialist, that the tree was atop the structure. Although there are trees at the other campuses—Alpharetta and Atlanta—only Forsyth has a celebration of lights.

The lights on the tree represent those who have been affected by cancer. There are approximately 50,000 tribute lights on the Forsyth tree and some are still available online. The donations from the lights directly assist patients and families in need through the Northside Hospital Cancer Institute.

Cumming Mayor introduced the guest of honor, Santa Claus, who thanked the hospital staff and volunteers. “We at the North Pole are very proud of Northside Hospital, for all of you and for all you do,” he said.

Auxiliary representative Dale Gamble, who, along with Andrea Ciupak, President of the Voluntary Auxiliary, decorated one of the dozen decorated trees that lined the celebration tent. “Volunteers furnish all the decorations,” explained Gamble. This year the resplendent trees will go local families.

Another themed tree was the Cancer Survivor tree, appropriately decorated in purple. Daniel explained “three or four patients sign an ornament every year and add it to the tree. After the Celebration, the tree is placed in the Infusion Center of the hospital to inspire other patients.”

One such ornament held the name of Virginia Phillips who attended with daughters Kaeli, 12, and Kamryn, 7, along with husband Kevin, a Northside Forsyth employee. Phillips is a breast cancer survivor and spoke highly of her care at the hospital. Sawnee Elementary School student Kamryn offered her opinion of the event as “really cool and you get to do a lot of fun things.”

“As a cancer patient and someone with long hair, it was heart wrenching to lose it. But it didn’t phase me. The nurses made me feel so beautiful, I forgot I had cancer. I owe a lot to my family, too, for their strength and support.”

Blankenship peppered introductions with updates of the football and promised to continue doing so “as long as Georgia was winning.”

Local school choral groups performed numerous holiday songs complete with choreography. Haw Creek Elementary school student Arianna Martinez shared that she was “nervous” but “the important thing was to have fun” during her first time participating in the event. The fourth grader went on to philosophize that “when you try your best, you’re already the best you can be.”

The crowd gathered outside as the sky grew dark in the heavily anticipated lighting of the tree. Due to a helicopter transport, the lighting was delayed. However, the Forsyth Central High School Chorus Singers kept the crowd singing and entertained by singing requests. Martinez and her mom sang along and danced to the tunes. Santa shared the spotlight when the group sang “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”

As the helicopter flew the patient away, the crowd stood silently in a moment of prayer. Blakenship resumed his duties as emcee and announced that a little girl named Bella had lost her elf. Phillips and her family gathered at the switch, eager to light the tree. Santa brought forth the elf and soon Bella was tearfully reunited with her beloved elf.

Daughter Kaelin explained that she and her sister were “excited” when they learned their mom would light the tree. “It was really cool,” added the Liberty Middle School student.

As the crowd counted down all eyes looked to the tree and with a rousing shout of “Merry Christmas,” Phillips flipped the switch and the fireworks display ensued. 

Is there a Tribute Light on the tree for your loved one? Please share their name with us in comments below.

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Special K December 03, 2012 at 02:33 PM
"The 24th annual 'Celebration of Lights Christmas Tree Lighting' event . . .." makes it clear that it's still "Christmas Tree" (in Forsyth, at least) at this time of the year.

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