"Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one!" the children chanted.
Then Mayor Toni Iseman pulled the switch on 11,500 bulbs that lighted up the 55-foot white fir tree, the centerpiece of the second Holiday Open House at Montage Laguna Beach.
An estimated 2,900 people were on hand Monday for the resort's welcome to the holidays, almost three times the number who attended the inaugural event last year.
It was a "Hearts-warming" affair, especially for the Laguna Beach Community Clinic.
"As we were thinking about lighting our tree, we were inspired by the simple act of giving because even though it's easy to focus on receiving at this time of year, it's often in the act of giving that we find the greatest happiness," resort General Manager Todd Orlich told the crowd. "So we would like to do a little giving."
Orlich presented a $5,000 check to clinic director Dr. Tom Bent.
The clinic is one of the local nonprofits that is supported by the Hearts of Montage.
"Hearts of Montage is a philanthropic organization founded and led by associates of Montage Laguna Beach who are passionate about serving our community," Orlich said. "Contributions encompass volunteer commitments as well as financial contributions to local nonprofits, the majority of which are in Laguna Beach."
Hearts Presidents Chris Loidolt and Ben Pearson participated in the presentation.
"You know that for every life you help, there is a tremendous ripple effect," Orlich told Bent. "So make no mistake about it. All of you working at the Laguna Beach Community Clinic, you are impact multipliers. You are inspiration multipliers. That is the power that you have, and that you hold. It is a truly precious power. And, today, we want to honor you all."
In addition to acknowledging the clinic for its service to the community and Hearts of Montage for its generosity, Orlich thanked Mother Nature, who provided clear skies to show off the Montage "moon" hung between the two palms named for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz,. The stars of television filmed their foray into movies, "The Long, Long Trailer," in 1953 at Treasure Island Mobile Home Park, the land on which Montage now stands.
Decorations also included the trunks and canopies of the Canary Island date palm trees that border the swimming pool, so much nicer than only the trunks, which could just as well be telephone poles.
Of course, the pièce de résistance was the lighting of the 26-year-old, 5,000-ton fir trucked in from just north of Lake Tahoe. It was replaced there by 10 young trees and when the holidays are over, the Montage tree will be ground up to mulch the resort gardens.
The evening also included children's activities: photographs with Santa on the ocean-facing lawn, face painting, balloon animal crafting, hot chocolate and warm cookies in the Gallery Ballroom, and the Paintbox, where holiday memories and magic were made.
Guests were invited to enjoy "bites and beverages" throughout the resort. Complimentary hors d'oeuvres and sparkling cider were served in the Loft bar and balcony. Samplers included Evonne Kane, who organizes the Boutique Benefit fundraiser for the Laguna Relief & Resource Center, and Iseman, who came up to the Loft after lighting the fir tree with a little help from delighted kids in the crowd who she invited to help her.
Also on the balcony, sampling brownies were Dana Pantuso, Karen Warrick and Angie Miller of Fun is First, which produced the fantastic opening party for Montage, as well as the resort's Manager's Getaway at Aliso Creek on Wednesday.
"It's nice to see all the people here," Miller said.
Diners at the Loft included 103-year-old Herb Nootbar, Chamber of Commerce President Michael Kinsman and his wife, former Mayor Cheryl Kinsman, and Friends of the Library and Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assn. President Martha Lydick, who shared a window table with a perfect view of the decorated grounds.
"It looks too perfect to be real," Lydick said.
The Kinsmans also had reservation for the following Thursday to celebrate Cheryl's birthday.
Also dining in the Loft: former school board member and owner of some really snazzy classic cars, El Hathaway.
Hathaway also attended the inaugural Montage holiday party last year, when his son, Tyler, was a manager of the restaurant before moving out of town.
An elaborate gingerbread village was displayed just outside the Loft — no nibbling permitted.
The Mosaic Bar and Grille served hot chocolate, homemade cookies and holiday music. Special chef demonstrations were held at the Studio's savory food stations, complemented by mulled spiced cider.
David Allen Baker played the guitar in the Lobby Lounge, where more potent beverages could be purchased.
Spa Montage was open for free massages and some gift products and celebrity colorist Kim V¿ showcased his haute holiday styles and trends. Browsers sipped cider with personal shoppers at Treasures and were treated to a trunk show at the shops on the front drive.
Opportunity prizes included lunch for two at the Mosaic, dinners for two at the Loft and the Studio, a Surrender gift basket from the spa, a free cut and color appointment at the salon and a Montage gift basket at the front drive.
Carolers serenaded the guests, who included Councilwoman Verna Rollinger, Mary and Matt Lawson, Darrcy Loveland and Dwayne Bickel, John Hoover and Charlie Rainey, a food writer for scientific journals such as "Nutrition Today," Helga Sommer, Niko Theris and former Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Redeker.