“It’s almost always our biggest After Five of the year,” said Katherine O’Hara, of the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce. “Arturo’s food is incredible.”
Apparently, chamber members agreed with her, as approximately 200 of them crowded into Arturo’s Italian restaurant on Bald Eagle Drive Wednesday evening to hit the buffet and the bar, and then trooped out again to the courtyard and parking lot out front for the ceremonial lighting of the Christmas tree. At the buffet, along with Arturo Perez and his white-coated staff, they found chicken piccata with capers, grilled sausage with sautéed peppers and onions, Italian meatballs and penne ala vodka.
Although there are several other “kickoff” events for the Christmas season on Marco Island, the lighting of the tree at Arturo’s has grown into a time-honored ritual.
“This is the 16th year in a row we’ve done the tree lighting ceremony,” said Arturo’s co-owner Judy Barney. “We’ve had the restaurant here for 18 years.”
Father Russell Ruggiero, of San Marco Catholic Church, performed a blessing of the tree, reading his script with some help from Celina Alber, 8, and her sister Alessandra, who held miniature flashlights that looked much like the ones island Realtor Bill Filbin hands out at the drop of a business card. Then Ruggiero splashed holy water on the tree, joking he hoped it didn’t meet up with the electrical wiring for the lights. The crowd counted down “ten, nine, eight ” and the towering “tree” it is put together and flat on the back side was illuminated.
The Alber kids weren’t the only members of the younger generation in attendance. Richard and Jennifer Shanahan had a double armful of daughter Sutton and son Richard IV, the newest addition to the family. Arturo Perez posed for a photo with his grandsons Edgar, 7, and Joaquin, who gave his age as five, although his mother said he’s still four. Several of his offspring were among the chefs in white coats who stood collecting the plaudits of the diners.
Erik Condee turned up a winner, collecting $310 in the 50/50 raffle. Conversations continued out in the parking lot, even as the evening’s dinner reservation holders drove up. Apart from where to find a parking space, the only other question was if this is the Christmas season, why does it feel like summer?