Andrew Dys

The tree won. It was lit up again. How the people of York prevailed.

The parade finished and with help from the cops Santa rushed from the route’s end back to “The Tree.”

Yes, The Tree, capitalized, because for the people of York it is The Tree, and it is theirs and always has been. Especially at Christmas when in days gone by the lights of that tree in downtown York told Santa where little York was and where little York hearts would jump when he stopped there.

The people of York saved The Tree, and now it would be lit for Christmas once more. With 3,800 lights.

People gathered to watch. Young and old, the faces gleaming. Their spirits soaring.

“How pretty that tree is,” said Sylvia Mason, 4 years old.

The giant cedar tree on the York County Courthouse property at the downtown intersection of Congress and Liberty streets was saved by an outcry of town residents. The tree was used for decades as a community Christmas tree. But this summer, county officials considered chopping it down because the tree had allegedly stopped growing and was an aesthetic and safety problem as it grew far larger than the building.

After The Herald reported about it, people started one loud ruckus over The Tree.

The people of York were having no part of any government ax. They complained to city officials and county people and did it often. Old ladies and young men complained that history was being chopped down.

So the city saved the tree. After the city’s downtown historic commission denied a county request to cut down the tree, York Mayor Eddie Lee, who will talk until Valentine’s Day if allowed, uttered the shortest quote in his 15-year tenure: “The tree won.”

Then the Yorkville Historical Society purchased $3,000 in new lights, which the York Fire Department put up last month.

That left Wednesday night’s joyful display.

A small crowd gathered in front of the courthouse as Mayor Lee, dressed as Santa, walked up shaking hands and winking at the adults who knew his real identity.

Santa grabbed a microphone and told the small crowd that before he got back on his sleigh to return to the North Pole, he wanted to stop by the courthouse to say how impressed he was with the parade.

He proclaimed that the city of York’s Fire Chief Domenic Manera is on the “nice list” because the fire department installed the 3,800 white lights on the towering tree.

The crowd cheered as the cascading lights flickered on when the mayor pointed his finger upward.

In the crowd was the Yorkville Historical Society’s Gary Gross, who ranked the parade and tree lighting as one of York’s treasured yearly traditions alongside Summerfest and the holiday tour of homes. Gross actually turned on the tree lights. He was proud that the people of York spoke up and saved a tree for all ages.

“I had all of my family here, and it’s especially nice,” Gross said. “I love the historical nature of York, and this is just part of it.”

Little Sylvia Mason, 4, and her sister, Adelia, 10, watched those lights come on with their mother, Kimberly. Kimberly Mason said she sees that tree so often, and loves that tree. The Tree.

Adelia Mason watched the lights go on and spoke for a city of 8,000 people: “It’s like a giant snow globe. It is beautiful. I am glad we have the tree.”

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065

Related stories from Rock Hill Herald