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Marco Island’s tree-lighting ceremony is a celebration that every town in the Frost Belt could envy – a winter carnival without the cold.

Saturday evening was beautiful and balmy, shorts and tees weather, with the full moon adding celestial illumination to the stage lights and the thousands of lights on the new Christmas Island Style tree. That 40-ft. inverted cone was publicly unveiled for the first time as the climax of the ceremony at Veterans’ Community Park, with Santa Claus leading the countdown to flipping the switch to turn on the power.

Adorable children in holiday outfits danced with varying levels of skill but plenty of enthusiasm. The Lyrical Ballet troupe from Island Dance Academy performed “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” a salute dedicated to American troops, and the Marco Island Academy Chorus sang a medley of songs from the holiday classic “White Christmas.” Kids frolicked in the “snow” machine operated by Erik Condee, joyfully coating themselves with a mix of distilled water, bubble bath and rubbing alcohol.

Before the tree was lit, Pastor Steve Schoof of Marco Presbyterian Church led a blessing, and Christmas Island Style honcho Steve Stefanides thanked all those who had contributed to help pay for it. Hundreds gathered around admiring the tree, and posing for “selfies” in front of it with friends and family.

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Groups of tailgaters vied to outdo each other with the variety and quality of the hors d’oeuvres they offered. The F Troop layout, with 80 revelers, a complete open bar, and an RV, may have taken the (unofficial) honors, as well as lending major financial support, but they faced steep competition from groups including the Marco Sportfishing Club and Keller-Williams.

One thing everyone agreed on – this year’s ceremony drew the biggest crowd ever. MIPD Chief Al Schettino made an “official guesstimate” of at least 3,000 people, while others including Stefanides thought there must be 5,000 milling around Veterans Community Park.

More: It's beginning to look a lot like...

More Christmas Island Style events are on tap in the days ahead. For a complete schedule, go online to christmasislandstyle.com.

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