A smile rarely leaves 8-year-old Jason Melena Flores’ face as he talks about his family, the upcoming holiday and pretty much anything else.
His eyes open wide as he reminisces about the Christmas light displays his family puts inside and outside their Santa Maria home every year.
By far, the grandest reaction comes when Jason visualizes himself flipping the switch to turn on the bright lights of Santa Maria’s first-ever Christmas tree — an honor he’ll partake in Friday night.
A Grand Illumination Ceremony will commence, rain or shine, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at 110 E. Cook St., courtesy of donations made to People for Leisure And Youth Inc. and the City of Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department.
“The mayor might be there,” Jason said earlier this week, a hint of nerves momentarily clouding the self-confidence and courage that typically characterize the young cancer survivor.
Jason and his family were picked to light the 24-foot tree in part because they symbolize a “beacon for hope” in the community, said Dennis Smitherman, city recreation supervisor.
Jason, now a third-grader, was diagnosed three years ago with neurofibromatosis, a genetically inherited disorder in which the nerve tissue grows tumors.
Although he is almost completely blind in his left eye, and found out earlier this year that he needed to begin chemotherapy because the tumors in his brain have gotten bigger, Jason doesn’t complain.
“What a great family to have,” Smitherman told Noozhawk. “We just thought that this family was a really great representation of our area.”
Jason and his mom live with his grandparents, Bob and Stephanie Melena, who say Jason has more spirit than anyone.
“For him, it’s going to be a big thing,” Stephanie Melena said of lighting the tree. “It’s really awesome. I’m glad they’re doing that.”
It’s no stretch to say Jason inherited some of his love for the holiday from his grandparents. The couple have decorated every home they’ve lived in — regardless of size — each of the 38 years they’ve been married.
The Melenas home at 1324 Valley Oak Place is a long-standing entry in the annual Lights, Sights, and Holiday Nights decorating contest, their displays taking home prizes for most inspirational, most nostalgic and for showing the spirit of Santa Maria.
“We do it for the grandkids,” Bob Melena said.
Jason is anxious for this year’s family display, which is off to a slower start because Bob Melena fell last week from a one-story roof he was working on and broke his clavicle, sternum and some ribs.
The family is not deterred.
“I love Christmas,” Jason said.
Even with a sling, Bob Melena is determined to give his six grandchildren and the community a display that gets bigger and better each year.
His wife also has donated and decorated a tree to be raffled off in the Santa Maria Town Center by a local Altrusa group.
“I enjoy it,” she said, “and I hope my family does, too.”
The Melenas say they’re bundling up and bring umbrellas to Friday night’s ceremony, where many of their relatives will be on hand to cheer on Jason.
“I love him very much,” Bob Melena said. “We try to give back. Everyone’s been so good to this little boy.”