Downtown Huntington Beach's Christmas tree may be a fraction of the size of those found in neighboring cities, but it still garnered cheers and applause from those attending Sunday's lighting ceremony.
Hundreds of residents packed Main Street between Walnut and Olive avenues for the Huntington Beach Business Improvement District's fourth-annual lighting event.
With help from Santa Claus, who stood on the second-floor balcony of the parking structure near Hurricane's Bar and Grill, the 20-foot artificial tree came to life, its multicolored light bulbs flickering.
"It also plays music, and we can put that on a timer," BID manager Susan Welfringer said.
Welfringer said the Christmas tree, located for the holidays between the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, ties in with the small-town atmosphere embodied by downtown.
"This is our central place for people to be, and we want it to be comfortable for everybody," she said.
The crowd Sunday had more to take in than the tree.
Christmas carols were sung by the Sunshine Generation, the Surf City Singers from the Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts, the Costa Mesa-based All-American Boys Chorus and other groups on a stage set up at Main and Walnut.
Volunteers from the Ocean View High School Key Club and Orange Coast College handed out cookies and hot cocoa.
And some revelers dressed for Christmas — even though Thanksgiving had not come and gone.
Huntington Beach residents Amy Daniels-Pate and Julee Pate, who both wore Santa hats, sat near the tannenbaum enjoying the complimentary snacks. The Southern Californians recently moved back after 20 years in Seattle.
"The dependability of the sunshine is what we've missed," said Daniels-Pate, 50, who lived in Long Beach before moving to Washington. "The fall is really pretty there, but then it's like, 'Hey, we're done with winter now. Bring on spring and summer.' And you just never knew if that was going to come, and too many years it didn't."
Pate, 49, who is a fourth-generation Huntington Beach resident, said she didn't know how good she had it in Surf City until she left. She misses the "Christmasy" weather of the Northwest somewhat but appreciated Sunday night's 60-degree temperature even more.
"Because of the weather, Seattle feels more like the holidays," Daniels-Pate said. "But here, it's great because it's California's winter, with the palm trees, warmer weather, the sunshine and the beach. I much prefer this."
The two appreciated Welfringer's goal of turning downtown Huntington Beach into a more community-friendly area for the holidays.
"I'm glad that there's something happening in downtown, because growing up here, there was never anything going on downtown," Pate said. "To have the merchants participate and bring out the people and get the season off to a great start, I applaud the changes that they've made to celebrate Christmas."