NAPLES — Holiday cheer burned bright in the Bayfront community in Naples on Saturday evening when the neighborhood illuminated a 20-foot Christmas tree just after sunset.
Around 150 people gathered by the fountain for music, refreshments, balloon making and a chance to meet jolly old St. Nick before the lighting of the tree in the small residential and commercial complex on the Gordon River near the intersection of Goodlette-Frank Road and U.S. 41.
Lois Bolin, co-founder of Naples Backyard History Museum, an organization devoted to promoting the history and cultural identity in Naples and Collier County, said that the tree-lighting event was an opportunity for people to come together to kick off the holiday season, enjoy a pleasant evening with family and friends and enhance a sense of community along the waterfront in Naples.
“It’s really about supporting the character and identity of Naples,” Bolin said, pointing out that Bayfront sits on the site of the original railroad turnaround.
She added that events like this serve to connect the various neighborhoods in Old Naples – giving people the chance to stroll from 5th Avenue South to Tin City, then through the Gordon River Underpass to Bayfront.
John Sorey, III, vice mayor of Naples, sat with his wife, Delores, next to the Christmas tree before the lighting ceremony.
“We’re delighted there’s so much activity,” Sorey said.
He says he sees this event as a piece of the solution to boosting the sense of community amongst the different neighborhoods in downtown Naples.
Jenna Wolcott said that she and her husband, Chad, were in town from Tampa visiting relatives for the weekend. She said they stumbled upon the event listed in the newspaper and wanted to give their 8-month-old daughter, Annaleigh, a special holiday treat.
“It’s baby’s first Christmas,” Wolcott said. “We wanted her to see Santa and the tree lighting.”
“She wasn’t too happy with Santa,” chimed her husband, Chad, laughing. “But she liked the beard and the ‘goody bag.’”
Jeff and Dana Houser, a couple from Naples, watched their 5-year-old son, Isaac, receive a balloon sculpture in the shape of a fishing rig from a clown surrounded by a cluster of children. Jeff Houser quickly intervened when Issac tried to take his balloon rod and reel to the fountain.
“No. You can’t go fishing in the fountain,” Houser said.
“The weather’s beautiful,” Dana Houser said. “And it’s free. That’s the best part.”
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