Caroline Moore

The New Haven Green was teeming with Christmas cheer on Thursday night as the annual tree-lighting ceremony illuminated the beginning of the holiday season.

The celebration, which began at 4 p.m., was hosted by the New Haven Town District and the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees. It was broadcast live by NBC Connecticut, the sole media sponsor of the ceremony.

Although the official tree lighting was not until 7 p.m., many local residents and students arrived early to enjoy the numerous festivities, which included a Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, live entertainment, a petting zoo, food trucks and various arts and crafts. Children queued up to tell Santa Claus their wish lists, and free hot chocolate made the cold more bearable for all of the attendees.

Dan Barvir, an East Rock park ranger, was hard at work at the event, lending his creative eye to children creating scratch-off Christmas tree ornaments.

“The people of New Haven come from all walks of life, and this event is just really special in that it brings everyone together,” Barvir said in an interview with the News. “It’s so great to see so many parents, children and volunteers just having fun and playing together.”

Barvir has been working with the Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees for a little over 33 years, and reminisced on the last few decades of tree-lighting ceremonies, remembering how he helped a boy spell “Merry Christmas” on his snowman-shaped ornament.

“The tree is always donated to us, and this year it’s from Prospect, Connecticut,” he said. “There are thousands of bulbs inside it, and it’s so great to see the kids’ faces light up as soon as the tree does.”

Brenda Kestenbaum, NBC Connecticut’s community and special events producer, said that this is the fourth consecutive year that NBC has been the exclusive media partner for the event. NBC ran a 30-minute special on the ceremony at 7 p.m. on Thursday night, and representatives handed out NBC-sponsored LED maracas to children on the Green.

“We love seeing the vibrancy and diversity that comes out for this celebration,” Kestenbaum told the News. “We love being here and being able to see the community come together to spread the Christmas cheer.”

The annual event saw some controversy last year, when a small group of organizers from New Haven Stands with Standing Rock sang parodied Christmas carols in protest of the city’s investment in Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo sponsored the ceremony both last year and this year, and purchased the event’s 65-foot spruce tree.

In a press release from last year, the organization claimed that Wells Fargo had harmed indigenous peoples by providing $467 million to the Dakota Access Pipeline and other similar projects. Singing in protest at the tree-lighting ceremony last year, the group asked the city to move its funds from Wells Fargo and relocate them to a local bank that did not support the pipeline.

But Thursday night, there were no protesters and attendees listened to the carols of schoolchildren instead.

Kelsey Dunn ’21 said being at the tree-lighting ceremony gave her some of the most powerful feelings of the “true Christmas spirit” that she has ever experienced.

“It was just amazing to stand among so many friends and strangers and watch thousands of colored bulbs light up this massive tree,” she said. “Everyone was just happy to be there and celebrate the start of the holiday season.”

The tree will be on display on the New Haven Green for the next month, along with a giant menorah.

The New Haven Green is located at 900 Chapel St.

Caroline Moore | caroline.moore@yale.edu