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For several years, Philomath ushered in the holiday season each winter when Christmas lights illuminated a tree at Main and 19th.

"With that tree, the lights just went on," longtime resident and Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce board secretary Marcia Gilson recalled, making reference to the old sequoia that came down largely in part because of the couplet project. "The cool thing about this tree is this has become a ceremony and a community activity."

The 11th annual Philomath Christmas Tree Lighting brightened the night sky in front of the Benton County Historical Museum Monday night, drawing a sizable crowd despite chilly temperatures that dipped below 40 degrees.

"Look at this, look around, this is the cool part," Gilson said while watching families, many with young children, enjoying the activities. "This is the part that has become a tradition."

Carey Oien, of Wren, has been in attendance at just about all of the tree-lighting ceremonies since they started in 2007.

"I've been here through cold weather, snow, rain and some dry," said Oien, who was there with five grandchildren. "It's fun to come out and see the Christmas tree light up and hear the kids perform, the different groups that over the years have performed singing."

The Falcon Singers, which are made up of Philomath Elementary School students, were special guests of the chamber and performed several numbers while people arrived.

"Live music just makes it a little more festive," chamber board president Bre Miller said. "It's fun to get them out here."

Don Meeker, who directs the PES group, said about 40 of his 55 students were on hand for the celebration.

Shelley Niemann, chamber director, said she was happy to see what she believed was a great turnout. The chamber has hosted the event since its start.

"I think what makes small communities so special is the turnout of events like this and everybody that works hard to make this possible," Miller said. "It's cool to see everybody kind of put a hand into making this special."

The giant sequoia on the museum's front lawn lit up right at 7 p.m. while those in attendance took part in a countdown. As the lights went on, the museum's historic bell rang out into the night.

Rick Wells, of Kings Valley, donned his Santa Claus suit and made a grand entrance on Philomath Fire & Rescue's Old No. 1 engine. Rylee Henderer, the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo queen, helped him hand out candy canes while they chatted with little ones and posed for photos.

"I love it, I love all the kids and everybody, it's just a wonderful time," Wells said during a few seconds between photo poses.

Others helping with the event included the College United Methodist Church with cookies and hot cocoa, Philomath Rental with lights and Mid-Valley DJ with music and the sound system. In addition, Corvallis Knights mascots Mack the Knight and Lil' King interrupted their offseason to entertain children.

Shonnard's Nursery with the help of Pacific Power took care of decorating duties and Joel Shonnard was on hand Monday night to make sure the lights were going to illuminate.

Also during the evening, Debbie Thorpe, Philomath Lions Club president, announced the donation of a $600 check with $300 going to the Philomath Food Bank and the other $300 to the Holiday Cheer program.

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