Lighting of tree marks Christmas season

Never mind that Thanksgiving is only about a week away. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Fashion Island signaled the beginning of the Christmas season Tuesday evening when its 92-foot white fir tree, which is located in the Neiman Marcus-Bloomingdale's Courtyard of the coastal shopping center, was lighted for the first time in front of an estimated crowd of up to 10,000 people.

Those in attendance were treated to a rare snowfall and several sing-a-long carols from Disney characters like Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy. The whole event will be repeated again Wednesday starting at 6 p.m.

Newport Beach residents Tom and Becky Porter couldn't stay away Tuesday.

"The lighting of the tree has been fairly traditional here, and between that and the Disney characters, these guys love it," said Tom, pointing to his twin 2-year old children Beckett and Tatum in their stroller.

Stacie Ellis, Fashion Island's senior director of marketing, said the addition of the Disney brand has taken the annual occurrence to another level.

"I think the tree lighting has always meant something because it's been going on for decades, but adding in the Disney aspect I think just catered it more to the community," she said. "Every year it grows, especially since we brought Disney in; it's definitely grown big time."

Ellis estimated there to be from 8,000 to 10,000 people in attendance Tuesday. If so, that would be a dramatic increase from the 5,000 the event drew last year.

"I've always seen the tree lighting," she said. "It's kind of a tradition, you know. It kind of kicks off the holiday season."

The event, which has roots that reach back about about 45 years, has become a tradition for Rima Mabsout and her twin 8-year old boys, Adam and Jude.

They used to go to a similar Christmas tree lightings in Century City when they lived in West Los Angeles, Mabsout said, and needed a new place to keep the tradition alive when they moved to Irvine a few years ago.

"When we moved, this become the new spot," Mabsout said. "It's the festivity, all the feelings of the season, and we have hot chocolate."

It was the slight chill in the air, paired with the brightly decorated Christmas tree, that added up to one thing for Adam.

"It kind of starts feeling like Christmas now when we come here because it gets cold," he said. "We've been here like three or four times before, and we come like maybe one or two times a year for a celebration."

Twitter: @tcnshortall

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