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Annual tree lighting draws crowds to Campus Martius

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Now it’s Christmas for real.

Hundreds of people gathered at Campus Martius Friday night for a fun-filled holiday evening and to see Michigan’s traditional 65-foot-tall Christmas tree light up with 20,000 LEDs.

Around 7:10 p.m., Mayor Mike Duggan, his wife and others gathered near the tree to start the countdown from five o’clock. Then, minutes later, Duggan threw the switch, and the packed crowd cheered and cheered as if it were the ball falling in Times Square in New York on New Year’s Eve.

Local ice skating groups took off on the rink as dozens took photos or videos of the tree.

Despite the cold temperatures, many, like Madyson Bundy, 24, of Detroit, stepped out for their first taste of a Detroit Christmas.

“I came with my baby, my friends Tashyla and Marcell. We go out and try to get into the holiday spirit.

Bundy said she was very excited to see the lights on the tree. “I just want to make sure my baby has a smile on her face, which doesn’t take too much for that,” she said.

Angel Lindsey, center, of Detroit, takes a photo with others as the Salvation Army Kettle is lit during the 19th Annual Detroit Tree Lighting presented by the DTE Foundation on Friday, November 18, 2022, at Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit.

Guests were greeted by metal detectors for a safe and fun evening. Food trucks lined the street, along with vendors offering merchandise such as free stickers, hot chocolate and other treats.

For $10, attendees could take a horse-drawn carriage ride, or for $40, they could take a private ride.

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Starting at 5 p.m., crowds began gathering in sub-freezing temperatures to get a taste of the festive season. It was also the opening night of the Campus Martius ice rink.

While some wolfed down food or tried to warm their hands and bellies with hot chocolate, others did some early Christmas shopping at the Cadillac Square holiday markets which have more than 15 vendors selling clothes , jewelry, body care and other novelty products.

As part of the tree lighting program, there were performances by Mariah Bell, 2022 U.S. National Figure Skating Champion, and University of Michigan alumni and Golden Globe-winning actor and singer-songwriter Darren Criss, known for his role in the television show “Glee.” The Redhouse Band, led by Darell “Red” Campbell Jr., a musician and teacher who works with the Detroit Symphony’s Civic Youth Bands, also performed.

JJ Cady of Royal Oak records an Iive Skate Show during the 19th Annual Detroit Tree Lighting presented by the DTE Foundation Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, at Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit.

David Cowan, Director of Public Spaces for the Downtown Detroit Partnership (DPD), said DDP was excited to be part of this event again.

Cowan said, “It’s the start of the holiday season for all of Detroit. We are delighted to offer this event free and open to all. It’s a tradition so dear to so many Detroiters and many in the state. It is an honor for DDP to produce this for the 19th year.”

Last year, more than 75,000 guests attended. This year, Cowan and his team expected at least 100,000. New things were added to the show this year.

“There are a lot more viewing areas we’ve added, we’ve increased the overall footprint of the event, the stage is bigger,” he said. “There are a million more lights downtown, new lighting themes all over the city. There is so much to do and see downtown. It’s incredible: shopping, restaurants, horse-drawn carriage rides, visiting with Santa Claus, it’s really quite spectacular.

Downtown Detroit colleagues Katie Duffy, 36, of Allen Park, Lauren Banach, 37, of Livonia, and Lisa Talarek, 31, of Ferndale, all work nearby and watch daily during the installation of the tree.

Nyla Rozzell, right, of Detroit, and Johnna Philot-Dixon pose for a photo during the 19th Annual Detroit Tree Lighting presented by the DTE Foundation Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, at Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit.

“We were at the office, so we wandered around here,” Duffy said. “We work from home on Fridays, which shows how much we really wanted to come. We were like, we’re going to be in the office that day to be here and already parked, avoid the crowds and everything.

It was the first tree lighting for Duffy and Banach but Talarek was before.

“I’m excited to see the city light up like this and the whole vibe to see the crowd,” Duffy said. “To me, it just symbolizes what Detroit is still like. You can feel the excitement for the holidays and the love from everyone here.

The Campus Martius ice rink is open seven days a week until March 5.