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Grand Illumination, Lighting of the Lawn open holiday season in Charlottesville Friday

The tree has been trimmed, the lights have been strung and the date is set. Charlottesville’s Grand Illumination will take place this coming Friday.

The 26th annual ceremony will bring crowds hunting for some Christmas cheer to the city’s Downtown Mall from 5 to 8 p.m.

“This spectacular community tree lighting event features music, food, games, prizes, special guests, and plenty of holiday fun for all ages,” according to a city statement.

A holiday concert will feature nine musical acts at the Ting Pavilion at the eastern end of the Mall. Past performers have included the Virginia Consort Carolers, Terri Allard, the Virginia Sil’hooettes, DMR Adventures, the Jeffersonland Chorus, Art Wheeler, Music Resource Center, the Charlottesville Band, Voices of Service and the American Military Spouses Choir, among others.

Next door to the pavilion, two dozen vendors will be participating in a holiday market, selling treats, crafts, food and beverages. And nearby, the “Ale Trail” will be serving up a selection of craft beer and wine.

Topping off the evening will be, naturally, the lighting of the Christmas tree at 7:30 p.m.

“We count down to Charlottesville’s Grand Illumination of the Holiday Tree and watch as 20,000 LED lights transform City Hall Plaza into a glowing wonderland.”

This year’s tree was a donation from the Stowe family.

Anyone hoping that this year’s centerpiece would carry on the Oatmeal name — 2021’s tree was Oatmeal and 2022’s was Son of Oatmeal — will be disappointed.

On Wednesday, the city announced, “The name of the 2023 Holiday Tree (by one vote!) is … Spruce Willis.”

The city received more than 430 responses to this year’s survey on prospective tree names. Spruce Willis won with 32.4% of the vote, beating out Tree-Rex, Roxanne, Tinsel von Spruce and, of course, Oatmeal the Third.

Admission to the Grand Illumination is free. Complimentary parking is to be made available at both the Water and Market street garages between 5 and 9 p.m.

Security will be checking bags at stations at all entrances for the duration of the event.

Vehicular crossings on the Downtown Mall at Second and Fourth streets will be closed starting at 4 p.m. The City Hall parking lots at Seventh Street and Key Recreation Center will be closed starting at 2 p.m.

The Grand Illumination will be taking place on the same evening as this year’s Lighting of the Lawn at the University of Virginia.

The annual ceremony at the heart of Jefferson’s Academical Village will take place from 7 to 9:30 p.m. and will include poetry readings, performances, singing of “The Good Old Song” and the light show that has been a hallmark of UVa life since 2001, when it began as a comparatively modest affair to inspire unity on Grounds in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Holiday festivities in Charlottesville will not be relegated to a single Friday.

“Magic on the Mall” is already underway and will run through Dec. 23. Events include a “Holly Trolley” train running up and down the Mall every weekend, live musical performances every Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m., an elvish scavenger hunt and a “Peppermint Trail” leading guests to sweet treats. Santa Claus himself will be stationed on the Mall from 12 to 4 p.m. every Saturday.

The group behind the “magic” is Friends of Cville Downtown, a nonprofit group that focuses on the beautification and economic development of the Downtown Mall.

The “friends” are also hosting a “Winter Window Competition” this year. Twenty downtown businesses are competing to see who can capture the Christmas spirit best in their window displays. Pedestrians walking the Downtown Mall can cast a vote for their favorite by scanning one of the QR codes scattered across the Mall.


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