When 8-year-old Tiffany Folcomer hopped in the car Friday night, she had no idea where the ride would take her.
All she knew was that her mother had planned a special surprise to help them celebrate Christmas as a family.
She never expected that surprise to include a 30-foot-tall Christmas tree, a Christmas gift store just for children or a visit from Santa, himself, at York’s annual Light Up Night in Continental Square.
Light Up Night might seem like a routine tradition for adults who frequent First Fridays in downtown York. You grab a bite to eat at a downtown restaurant, watch as 3,000 bulbs are lit on York’s Christmas tree and take advantage of the live music, beer samples and other activities held each First Friday in December at participating shops.
But for kids experiencing Light Up Night for the first time, it’s something special.
“I thought it was going to be pretty fun,” Folcomer, of Manchester Township, said, adding that Christmas is her favorite time of year. “It’s Jesus’ birthday, and I like all the presents, and I get to spend time with my family.”
She and her friends Elise Arvin, 6, and Elliana Arvin, 7, both of Manchester Township, started the night at Central Market House, where they found a Christmas shop set up for children with small budgets. About 10 vendors were selling handmade items, like mugs of hot chocolate mix, Play-Doh, holiday ornaments and gifts for dogs.
This was one of the first years that the girls were old enough to pick out presents for their families and friends by themselves, Tiffany’s mother Theresa said, and they were excited about the deals.
“They were selling really cool stuff,” Elliana Arvin said. “It was really cheap. You could get three Play-Dohs for a dollar!”
They bought home-made Play-Doh containers and gumballs for their cousins, cookies for their neighbor’s dog, magnetic clips for their teachers and spinning tops for their friends.
Next on the agenda was the tree-lighting ceremony.
About 2,000 people, mostly families with young children, filled Continental Square and counted down as representatives from local colleges lit the tree. This was the largest turnout Light Up Night has seen in the last few years, probably due to the nice weather, organizer Mary Yeaple said.
Folcomer and her friends agreed they had never seen a tree that large before.
“It’s huge,” Elliana said, craning her neck to see the top of the tree.
Seconds before it was lit, Folcomer grabbed her mother’s cell phone to document the moment.
“That was amazing!” she yelled into the camera after the tree was lit.
But the best part was still to come.
After a reading of “Twas The Night Before Christmas,” Santa Claus rode through Continental Square and waved at kids from a pedicab before taking free, professional photos with families at Martin Library.
Other activities for children throughout the evening included a holiday dance showcase by local performance groups, Dinner with the Elves at Mezzogiorno in Central Market, Christmas carols, holiday-themed balloon twist hats and, for the first time, Christmas photo props.
“People came down early and were playing with those all day,” Yeaple said.
“It was awesome,” Theresa Folcomer added. “It’s really neat that they hold a lot of these functions for families so we can interact with the city.”
Christmas Tree Facts
Type: Blue Spruce
Height: 30 to 35 feet
Diameter: 21 to 23 feet at the tree's base
Length: 40 feet
Number of lights: 3,000 LED Christmas lights
Days to decorate the tree: 2.5
Number of wreaths decorating downtown York: 16
Number of archways of lights on Market Street: 2