COLUMBIA, SC — The Christmas season started Sunday night on North Main Street with a push of a button by second-grader Jessica Grant when she lit the large tree in front of the Eau Claire Town Hall.
The community of 39 neighborhoods kicked off the holidays with the 26th annual Light Up North Columbia celebration that mixed music and scripture in the Luther J. Battiste III Plaza.
“We should give thanks for many reasons,” Columbia City Councilman Sam Davis told the crowd of more than 75 people gathered on the crisp, clear evening. “Our community faces challenges, but we make progress because we unite.”
Politics were on the fringe of the festival with a volunteer handing out fliers opposing the proposed switch to a strong mayor government in Columbia. The citywide vote takes place Tuesday.
The focus instead was on the holiday season, as community leaders took turns to read passages from the Bible about the birth of Christ between Christmas carols.
Light Up North Columbia gathered neighborhood residents working to make the area more vibrant and strengthen ties among the diverse population, including students attending a pair of colleges. Leaders from Columbia College and the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary sang with their neighbors Sunday.
“Too often you hear the negative things about this place,” said Christie Savage, president of the Eau Claire Community Council. “This puts an emphasis on the positives. The goal is to have a safe atmosphere for all.”
Savage has a new multipurpose center on her Christmas list.
The building would include a computer center, a children’s theater and space for job training, she said. Talks with city leaders are just under way.
Savage also would like to see a few family-oriented restaurants serving healthy foods open in the area, and add an open-air seasonal farmers market.
“We want a better north Columbia,” she said.
Trinity Moore, 9, had some simpler items on her list for Santa.
She said she wanted a doll while playing with balloon animals with her sisters – Stephanie, 6, and Janya, 4 – during a craft and gift sale in the Eau Claire Print Building before the tree lighting.
Trinity admitted she knows when Santa arrives.
“I hear him eat the cookies,” the third-grader said.