Santa oversees tree lighting

Rain turned to snow as Santa arrived at South Coast Plaza's 32nd annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony Thursday night.

Families in the crowd pulled their fuzzy Santa hats down tight, and a few popped up umbrellas as the first musical number began during the celebration that kicks off the Costa Mesa shopping destination's holiday season.

But by the time "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" was piped through the loudspeakers at Town Center Park in front of the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel, the weather had broken.

Stan Taeger, who spoke on behalf of the Segerstrom family and South Coast Plaza, asked everyone to keep their fingers and toes crossed while Orange County School of the Arts students took the stage to sing and dance.

"The big guy is on his way, finally," Taeger said, but if it got too wet they might have to stop the show.

The weather held, and Santa strolled down the isle as faux snow blasted from scaffolding. Reindeer, gingerbread men and Frosty the Snowman took the stage.

"It's beautiful and it's just a packed house," said Caprice Crebar, who brought her family from Laguna Niguel to the tree lighting for the first time to see her son Robbie perform in the ensemble.

But a 96-foot tree completely wrapped in multicolored lights was the star of the show.

The 20,000-pound white fir traveled more than 600 miles from Mount Shasta to Costa Mesa, where it has waited since Oct. 14 while five decorators strung the lights and placed a giant star on top.

As the music crescendoed, Santa, surrounded by his elves and the crowd, counted down from 10 to the moment the tree's 20,000 bulbs lit up the night.

Randy Aguilar, his wife and two kids craned their necks to stare up at the top of the tree after the crowning moment.

In the eight years since his daughter was born, Aguilar has brought his family to the tree lighting to kick off the Christmas season.

"Its our tradition," he said.

A visit with Santa, who is at South Coast Plaza as of Friday morning, is usually part of the season as well, the father said.

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