BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Berkeley Heights residents came in high spirits to Memorial Park on Saturday to watch the annual tree lighting, greet Santa, and enjoy a show of fireworks and carolers.

The tree lighting ceremony has been an anticipated Christmastime ceremony for more than 17 years and is one of the township’s biggest events of the year. A free event for the entire community, it’s a special occasion that brings the residents together, with Santa visiting the children in the morning, and the tree lighting commencing in the evening.

The event is run primarily through the township’s Recreational Commission and Special Events Committee, with Tom Barton and Caroline George organizing and overseeing the function.

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George runs many of the township’s programs throughout the year and believes that the tree lighting ceremony is one of the most special events throughout the year.

“It’s a free event, which is great, and it just brings everyone together,” she said. “It’s all about having fun and getting everyone involved in the community.”

When the siren of the fire truck could be heard, everyone rushed to the roadside to catch a glimpse of Santa as he arrived in the truck, kicking off the evening’s festivities. As Santa emerged from the fire truck and made his way through the crowd, kids ran up eagerly to meet him. Santa’s elves circulated throughout the crowd handing out candy canes and colorful trinkets. Throughout the night, there was plenty of hot chocolate and cookies to snack on, and the Hickory Tree Chorus sang a variety of Christmas tunes, including “Silent Night.” The chorus is a branch of the Sweet Adelaide International Organization and is made up of trained volunteers, some from Berkeley Heights.

Says chorus members and Berkeley Heights residents Karen Ayres and Shayna Atkinson, “We’ve been with the chorus for about four years now and we love being involved with it and with the whole tree lighting ceremony. Two years ago, it was snowing, but everyone still came out to the ceremony and had a great time.”

After Mayor Joseph Bruno introduced Santa and wished everyone a Merry Christmas, Santa started the countdown to the lighting of the tree. Afterwards, everyone gathered behind the illuminated tree to watch the spectacular red and green firework show, graciously donated by the Santore family and Garden State Fireworks.

Barton, who is director of the Special Events Committee, said the event is well worth the effort.

“All I have to do is provide the refreshments and line up the volunteers, but everyone already knows about the event,” he said. “It’s little work for a rewarding outcome.”