A flip of a switch illuminated a Christmas tree at the same time the Santa Maria Parade of Lights hit Broadway on Saturday night.
The community tree-lighting ceremony occurred the same night as the 23rd annual parade, with thousands of people lining Broadway to view the procession travel north from Stowell Road to Main Street.
“One of the things we tried to do with the Christmas tree lighting was to make it a community event, so tonight we’re doing it a little bit different,” said Alex Posada, director of the Santa Maria Recreation & Parks Department.
While the tree-lighting event typically occurs the night before the parade, this year it was moved to the same day with the events timed to occur simultaneously at 5:20 p.m.
The honor of flipping the switch went to Santa Maria area resident Evelyn Cervantes, a 10th-grader who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 14.
“The parade is underway,” Posada said after the tree became illuminated.
The tree-lighting ceremony included music by Coastal Voices, with cookies and hot apple cider also available.
The Christmas tree sits in front of City Hall hear the corner of South Broadway and East Cook Street.
The theme of the parade was “Joy of Giving,” with participants and spectators urged to donate nonperishable food items to The Salvation Army.
Volunteers traveled along Broadway pushing shopping carts to collect donations.
Organizers said they typically collect a ton of food to help the charitable group.
In all, more than 100 entries, most sporting a significant number of lights, participated in the parade. Those in the parade reportedly totaled approximately 3,000 people.
Entries competed for awards, with $1,000 going to grand prize winner.
A CalStar medical helicopter also provided a flyover shortly after the parade started.
The Rotary clubs of the Santa Maria Valley and Nipomo join forces to organize the parade each year.
At the end of the route, a street festival included live music, food trucks and bounce houses.