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Tree lighting a decades old tradition
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Residents and visitors enjoy the evening as the huge tree in 12th Avenue Park in Indian Rocks Beach is lit for the 2012 holiday season.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Mayor R.B. Johnson did the countdown ... 3 … 2 … 1. And the lights came on. The 2012 Indian Rocks Beach tree lighting was official, everything worked and it was back to chatting with the neighbors over hot chocolate and popcorn.

Hundreds of IRB residents crowded into the 12th Avenue Park on Nov. 30 for the annual event. They enjoyed the food and music and mostly it seemed the camaraderie, just being with one another.

There was no shortage of happy faces around the park including those of three women who found a precious park bench to sit on and enjoy the evening. Barbara Richards of Troy, Mich., was experiencing her first tree-lighting event with friends Rossana Sprolido and Cathy Jones, both IRB residents.

“This is my first time here,” said Richards. “I didn’t know this was going on until today. For a small community there is a lot going on here.”

Sprolido chimed in.

“This is just beautiful, it is great for the community, I can feel the spirit of Christmas.”

Jones agreed. “This is a good time. I love this community, I’ve lived here since 2000 and I’m glad I came,” she said.

Nearby a Great Dane, Glamis was trying her best not to get too excited. Her owners Ali and C.J. Mendez were doing their best to keep her under control, a tough task with the noise and people and food all around. The family just moved to Indian Rocks Beach less than a year ago. So far they love it.

“We’re having a ball,” said Mendez. “We enjoyed the Taste of IRB, Oktoberfest and now this. We love this community.”

Among the crowd were the mayor and all the IRB commissioners. Commissioner Jim Labadie and his wife Laura were chatting with old friend Art Torre who hasn’t missed tree lighting in a long time.

“I’ve been coming here for probably 10 years,” he said. “This is a great community.”

Clay Holland of Belleair Beach was there with his mother and grandmother. While they chatted he made sure to get his fill of the popcorn and hot chocolate. Ask him what he likes best about the whole evening and his answer?

“The popcorn and the hot chocolate.”

While the residents were chatting and waiting for the tree to be lit two groups from St. Jerome’s Catholic Church in Largo, the Cantabile Ensemble and the Teen Life Band entertained them. Well-known IRB resident and musician, Erica DiCeglie, led them.

All this has been going on in Indian Rocks Beach for the past 30 years and judging by the number of people who turned out and the smiles on their faces it isn’t going to end anytime soon.

And then the countdown. The lights, and in IRB at least, the Holiday season had officially begun.

Meanwhile, on Dec. 2, the Indian Rocks Beach Holiday Parade made its way through the city and the fingers, as participants tossed candy to spectators along the route.
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