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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Boston Common celebrates various festivities during Holiday Tree Lighting

Performers+and+viewers+of+the+event+join+on+stage+to+light+the+tree+on+Boston+Common+on+Thursday%2C+Nov.+30.
Nick Peace
Performers and viewers of the event join on stage to light the tree on Boston Common on Thursday, Nov. 30.

A cold night was turned warm with friendship in the heart of Boston last week.

On Thursday night, the Boston Common lawn had a stage festively adorned with wreaths and string lights lighting up the winter evening with bright holiday music and a sense of merriment. A crowd of dozens shuffled into seats inside the luminous semi-circle around the stage, hundreds more lining the gates around the grandstand to watch this year’s Holiday Lights ceremony. 

The event marked the 82nd annual tree lighting on the Common. The two-hour celebration features holiday music performances and speeches from local politicians and business leaders of Boston and Nova Scotia, culminating in the lighting of a 45-foot-tall Christmas tree. The rest of the Common and the Boston Public Garden are lit simultaneously with $24,000 worth of Christmas lights.

The tree is a donation to the city from the citizens of Nova Scotia, as a symbol of an enduring tradition of friendship between the two communities that dates back to Boston’s aid of Nova Scotia during the Halifax Explosion in 1917. This year’s tree was donated by Bette Gourley of Stewiacke, Nova Scotia, who made the long trek from the province along with dozens of other Nova Scotians to celebrate Holiday Lights with the Boston crowd.

In recognition of their presence, a section of seating at the event was reserved for Nova Scotia residents, who donned matching white beanies and waved Nova Scotia flags to show their pride.

Among them was Angela Trenholm, a Porte Howe resident who took a 10-hour car ride to come to Boston for the ceremony. It was her first time coming to watch the event.

“We thought we’d come to celebrate Christmas,” Trenholm said. “The weather’s perfect, the spirit’s good, [and the] people are kind … Here’s to another 106 years.”

In addition to the seated crowd near the stage, hundreds of on-lookers, including around three dozen pro-Palestinian protestors, watched from behind gates guarded by the Boston Police. 

Draped in a sign that read “Permanent Ceasefire,” protestors held tiny electric candles. They filled the air with chants and songs as they sang Christmas Carols like “Silent Night” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” interpolated with lyrics about the Israel-Hamas war.

“We cannot let this go,” said Amine Muhammad, one of the members of the pro-Palestinian crowd. “This is becoming a grave existential danger [in] the world.” This protest is one of many pro-Palestine demonstrations that have occurred around the Boston area and Emerson’s campus since Oct. 7

Starting near the tree, the protesters marched around the event’s perimeter and dispersed before the lighting ceremony concluded.

The tree itself arrived to much fanfare on Nov. 21, and now adorned with strings of lights waiting dormant for their time to shine, the Holiday Lights festivities began at 6 p.m.

The event opened with longtime hosts Anthony Evertt and Sheyna Seymour of WCVB’s Chronicle team welcoming their special guest, actress and singer Jennifer Hudson, to the stage to help with hosting the event.

Jennifer Hudson pulls the switch to turn on the Holiday Lights on Boston Common on Thursday, Nov. 30. (Nick Peace for The Beacon)

The first musical performance was by members of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” singing a cover of Elton John’s “Your Song” in addition to other Christmas classics. The Broadway cast of “Moulin Rouge” will be showing at the Boston Opera House in 2024 from Jan. 16 to Feb. 4.

Following this was a performance by the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism’s Spectrums of Sound Choir, a choir formed during the pandemic in 2020 led by Berklee College of Music graduate Cooper Hyde. The choir was formed by the Flutie Foundation to help young adults find an outlet to experiment with music.   

Nova Scotian folk band Coig, with members Rachel Davis on vocals and fiddle, Chrissy Crowley on fiddle, and Darren McMullen on guitar, played a more stripped-down version of Christmas covers. Dravis and Crowley also incorporated tap dancing into their renditions of the songs.  

For McMullen, the event took on a particular layer of significance. A Hardwood Lands resident, McMullen is family friends with the Gourleys, who donated this year’s tree.

“They’re good friends of my family,” McMullen told the crowd. “I’ve spent a lot of time around that tree, so it’s extra special to be here this year for sure.”

Donating a tree for the ceremony was a long-time goal of the Gourley family, who had been cultivating the 45-foot-tall white spruce for 40 years. 

“We hear from people, dozens and dozens every year, that would love to have their tree selected to be the tree to go to Boston,” Don Cameron, a regional forester at the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources from Truro, Nova Scotia, said in an interview with the Beacon. 

One of his main jobs is helping select the tree to be donated. Cameron said the Gourley’s tree had been looked at and measured for possible selection the past five or six years before its final donation.

“Every year, we come back and visit [the Gourleys and] measure the tree,” he said. “Finally, this year, the tree was tall enough to be a candidate. It was the top candidate in the list of about 15 to 20 trees that we look at over the years.”

A tree-cutting party was hosted on the morning of Nov. 15 at the Gourely’s Stewiake residence. Cameron recalls the ceremony featuring over 600 people gathered to watch the event, including 300 kids.

For Cameron, this year’s tree lighting takes on special significance because it will be his last working for the Department of Natural Resources. 

“I’m retiring in five days. So this is the grand finale,” Cameron said. “It means a lot for me to be personally part of the tree … involved with the family and helping make this possible.”

Owen “O’Sound” Lee, an R&B musician and songwriter living in Halifax, took the stage next to sing “Winter Wonderland” alongside “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” in a soulful tone with his band accompanying him.   

The event’s main act was a performance from four-time Grammy winner and Maroon 5 keyboardist PJ Morton.

Photo: Arthur Mansavage
On Thursday, Nov. 30, thousands gather on the Boston Common to watch the annual Christmas tree lighting.

The night ended with Boston City Mayor Wu and Honourable Tim Houston, Premier of Nova Scotia, joining the three hosts on stage. 

Addressing the crowd of Bostonians and Nova Scotians alike, Wu reflected on the relationship the communities share.

“Boston always steps in to help those in need,” Wu said. “A beautiful tree is really a reminder that our connection, our togetherness can cross borders, and this friendship can last for generations.”

“The bluenosers are kind people,” Houston said. “We recognize kindness when we see it, and we don’t forget it … When you look at that tree, think of the people in Nova Scotia [who] love you and are thankful for what you did.”

Right before lighting the tree, the five on stage were stopped by none other than Santa Claus himself, who requested that Hudson lead the crowd in an acapella performance of “Jingle Bells.” 

The last song concluded with Hudson flipping the switch on a massive plastic candy cane to light the tree and set the Common awash with an explosion of radiant fireworks and Christmas lights.

The crowd dispersed under the rainbow technicolor of LEDs, which now light the length of the Common and Garden for all to see.

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About the Contributors
Bryan Hecht, Assistant News Editor
Bryan Hecht (he/him) is a freshman journalism major from Havertown, Pennsylvania. He currently serves as an assistant editor of The Berkeley Beacon News section. Bryan also contributes to WEBN Political Pulse and hopes one day to work in broadcast news media. As a member of the Emerson Cross Country team, Bryan can likely be found on a run around the Boston area when he's not writing for the Beacon.
Sam Shipman, Staff Writer
Sam Shipman (He/Him) is a freshman journalism major from Natick, Massachusetts. He currently is a Staff Writer for the Berkeley Beacon. When he's not reporting he can be found listening to music or spending time with friends.
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