The holiday season kicked off Thursday night in Columbia with the 50th annual Governor’s Carolighting.
The program on the steps and north lawn of the State House centered around the lighting of the state Christmas tree, which sits next to Gervais Street at the Main Street intersection.
Hundreds gathered despite the chilly evening, and hot chocolate was available along with music starting at 6 p.m. The official program began at 7, with performances by musicians from all over the state, including the 282nd Army Band from Ft. Jackson, the Hallelujah Singers, pianist Marina Lomovoz and the Carolighting Children’s Choir.
Gov. Nikki Haley and her family made a grand entrance at the beginning of the ceremony. Haley presided over her final Carolighting as governor, having accepted President-Elect Donald Trump’s nomination to become the United States ambassador to the United Nations.
Haley addressed the crowd and praised the people of South Carolina for their resilience through the difficult times and tragedies of the last two years. “We aren’t a state that celebrates the Christmas spirit this time of year,” Haley said. “We’re a state that celebrates it every time of the year… We believe in taking care of each other.”
After the governor’s speech, the crowd counted down in unison and the lights on the 35-foot tree came on. “It’s the biggest tree I’ve ever seen,” said James Carter, a local 6-year-old attending his first Carolighting.
The tree came from a Maryland tree farm, and was donated to the state by the Columbia Garden Club and the Garden Club of South Carolina.