Christmas spirit lights up Marco – Tree-lighting ceremony moves to Mackle Park

Lance Shearer

It has been a rough couple of years for the Christmas Island Style tree lighting ceremony. Last year, the event was called off entirely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and this year the festivities had to move from their traditional venue at Veterans’ Community Park, which is undergoing a major, year-long renovation.

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At the ceremony’s temporary home at Mackle Park, parking was problematic, and the natural access from Heathwood Drive blocked off by construction. In the unkindest cut of all, at Mackle Park, no tailgating and no alcohol were permitted, wiping out two of the most notable and delicious features of the evening.

But on a picture-perfect Saturday evening, Marco Islanders showed that their Christmas spirit could flow in abundance even without the “spirits,” Like the Whos in Whoville who refused to be daunted when the Grinch stole their Christmas feast.

Crowds turned out to carpet the soccer field at the park, cheer a succession of dance routines by diminutive dancers, and applaud the culmination of the evening as the massive Christmas Island Style tree was officially lit.

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They held up cellphone flashlights when requested by emcee and island entertainer Jim Long, and reliably responded when asked to give a “Ho, ho, ho yeah!” They watched performances by the young ladies of Mermaid Tales Dance under the direction of Kristin Croscenco, each in an adorable matching outfits, from the Tiny Tales ballerinas aged two to four, to the Hip Hop Dolphins Dancers ranging up to age 15.

Shepherding each group of cute-as-a-button dancers onto and off the makeshift stage was no small feat, but perhaps the most impressive bit of logistics was setting up an entire band, the Marco Island Charter Middle School Jazz Band, including keyboards and drum set, in record time while Long kept the crowd entertained. Marti Miller of MICMS directed both the band and the school’s choir, which sang “All I Want for Christmas” and “Hallelujah.”

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Burson and Barb Dasti presented a check to the directors of Our Daily Bread Food Pantry, helping spread Christmas cheer further, and the entertainment was capped by the cheerleaders and dance team of Marco Island Academy. After a benediction by Pastor Casey Nowlin, all that remained was for Long and Burson, joined by Santa and Mrs. Claus – what is her first name anyway? – to lead the countdown and light the tree. At which point, families and groups gathered for scores of photos with the tree behind them.

The next few weeks will be filled with CIS activity, starting with a pet parade Tuesday, the Christmas Street Parade Saturday, and a Christmas movie in the park on Dec. 17. For more information, go to