Volunteers trim new Christmas Island Style tree

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Perhaps you have been saying to yourself over the last few months, “the Christmas Island Style Christmas tree they put up at Veterans Community Park is nice, but it’s just too small.” Or perhaps not.

But Christmas Island Style (CIS) organizer Steve Stefanides thinks about such things, and he decided that the existing tree, at about 34 feet tall, could use an upgrade.

“The old tree was 15 years old. The steel frame was starting to weaken and we were losing branches,” he said Tuesday morning, standing outside the new CIS 30-ft. trailer as a team of volunteers worked on trimming the new Christmas tree. “They don’t even make that style anymore.”

About three dozen CIS volunteers showed up on a bright blue morning, putting together the steel girders that make up the conical frame, “decking the rails” with artificial greenery and hanging massive ornaments on each of the sections while they still sat on the ground. Once each layer was constructed and decorated, a Lee County Electric Cooperative (LCEC) bucket truck hoisted them into place until the tree reached its full height of nearly 40 feet.

In essence a massive Erector Set, the project was assembled and decorated smoothly by the cadre of willing volunteers, with expert assistance on delivering the components and hooking up the lighting coming from a Condee Cooling & Electric team led by third-generation company manager Erik Condee.

The volunteers were veterans of dozens of Christmas Eve assembly projects, when they wrestled with swing sets, bicycles and trampolines as the children or grandchildren slept, presumably with visions of sugar plums – whatever those are – in their heads. Not to mention multiple community endeavors in which these civic leaders jumped in and did what needed to be done. Workers came from the Kiwanis Club, the island’s Rotary Clubs, the Italian-American Club and the Marco Fishing Club.

“This is a true community tree,” Stefanides said.

Alice Rizzo hoisted an armload of Christmas balls that looked to be as big as she was, walking around the base section looking for a place to hang them. If you squinted, you could imagine that the ornaments and the tree were typical Christmas tree size, and the workers were pint-sized elves – although to fully realize that vision, you would need fewer palm trees and perhaps a layer of snow on the ground.

Karen Eways and Larry Reagan worked together in stringing up a garland of red and silver balls, all sized to be visible from high in the air once the tree was fully erected. 

The tree, new ornaments and the trailer, which will serve to store the pieces for the other 11 months of the year, were paid for by a $60,000 fundraising effort, Stefanides said, which also included funds set aside for maintenance.

“In five years, it will more than pay for itself,” he said.

The new tree features all LED lights, including colored, white and twinkling clear lights. The star on top features “icicles” in a waterfall pattern, which will seem to cascade endlessly down. Meanwhile, the old tree, by losing the bottom sections, is being cut down to 18 ft. high, and will find a new home at Founders Park, Stefanides explained.

The 40-footer will be officially unveiled Saturday evening at the CIS tree-lighting ceremony, beginning at 6 p.m. at Veterans Community Park. Flipping the switch provides the emotional climax for the community event, which typically draws about 1,000 spectators for tailgating, Christmas music, and performances by adorable young dance troupes.

To make sure the lights come on when the switch is flipped, Greg Schneider of Condee will be testing it “late at night,” Stefanides said.

If there were any doubt, it’s official: the Season is upon us. For the full calendar of CIS events, visit christmasislandstyle.com. 

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