NAPLES — Rain or shine, tradition demands that the lights must come on.
Mr. and Mrs. Claus were not present for the ceremony, but true to tradition, Naples Mayor Bill Barnett finally set Fifth Avenue South’s Christmas tree aglow on Friday night, days before Tuesday’s Christmas Parade.
“We beat the rain, and we’re official now,” Barnett said after the 20-foot real Christmas tree lit up with golden lights. “This is probably the smallest crowd I’ve ever seen,” Barnett said of the 15 people attending the event.
This was the first time that the 15-year-old tradition of lighting the Fifth Avenue South Christmas tree and the Fifth Avenue South Christmas Walk had to be rescheduled due to rain. Both events were originally scheduled for Thursday night.
“We’re going to have the (tree) lighting rain or shine,” said Lisa Swirda, executive director of the Downtown Naples Association, earlier Friday.
“We needed to do it because it’s tradition that the tree is always on before the Christmas Parade, so that’s why (Mayor Barnett’s) doing it tonight.”
Terry Moore and his 9-year-old son Sasha were part of the smaller than usual crowd that came downtown to witness the tree-lighting ceremony.
“We’ve been down here before, and he always likes to come,” Terry Moore said. “It’s a big event for us.”
This was the fifth year that the Moore’s have come to the tree lighting ceremony.
“It’s really beautiful (with) the ornaments,” Sasha Moore said. “I mean the tree itself is real. It makes everything smell good.”
The Moores were disappointed that the tree-lighting ceremony scheduled for Thursday was canceled.
“We’re glad they went ahead (with it) tonight even though the weather’s not so great,” Terry Moore said. “It’s more important to light it and let everyone enjoy it in their own way.”
Barnett solicited the help of the small crowd of onlookers to help him count down from 10 to the lighting of the adorned tree, whose pine scent permeated the Sugden Plaza where it poses as a holiday centerpiece.
Downtown Naples Association officials decided around noon Thursday to postpone the Fifth Avenue Christmas tree-lighting ceremony until Friday night and the Christmas Walk until 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 10.
“It was a disappointment to us,” said Cathy Christopher, chairwoman of the DNA board of directors. “Of course we’re always looking forward to it. It’s such a great night, but you can’t take chances. It’s a huge night, and it involves many hundreds of people getting involved.”
Bad weather would hinder attendance and the participating musicians wouldn’t want to risk getting their equipment wet, Christopher said of the decision made to reschedule the events.
“We are very lucky that the weather has always cooperated,” Christopher said. “And this time it didn’t, but were not going to let it dampen our holiday spirits.”
The $5,000 Christmas tree was paid for by two new sponsors this year: Capital Wealth Management and the Law Office of Wilson & Johnson. The bad weather even delayed the arrival of the massive Christmas tree, which was apparently driven from Canada down to Naples.
A 14-foot temporary tree was set up in the Sugden Plaza on Thursday until its larger counterpart arrived Friday.
“I felt that as long as we were going to get the tree lit, I was fine with it,” said Barnett, who led the countdown for the lighting of the tree.
“They had a lot of complications, and they didn’t know what the weather was going to be. They were just being precautionary, and I’m OK with that,” Barnett said of the ceremony’s weather delay.
This year, the Christmas Parade, which, weather permitting, will take place on Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m., has the theme of The Magic of Christmas Past.
The Evening on Fifth, which usually takes place on the second Thursday of every month, has been rescheduled to Thursday, Dec. 17.
E-mail Sarah Donovan at email@example.com.