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Duluth hosts annual tree lighting

Staff Photo: Josh Green The crowd clamors for a photo of Santa with his live reindeer on Duluth's Town Green on Saturday night.
 Staff Photo: Josh Green Lights on this planted spruce bursts to life during Duluth's 33rd annual Lighting of the Tree ceremony in front of a record crowd Saturday. 

Staff Photo: Josh Green The crowd clamors for a photo of Santa with his live reindeer on Duluth's Town Green on Saturday night. Staff Photo: Josh Green Lights on this planted spruce bursts to life during Duluth's 33rd annual Lighting of the Tree ceremony in front of a record crowd Saturday. 

DULUTH -- By the time Santa Claus showed up, all jolly with a police escort, the festive crowd had swelled to several hundred and the Noel vibe was thick as eggnog.

Thirty-three years in, Duluth's annual Lighting of the Tree ceremony in the city's light-strewn core drew a record attendance, despite a much-hyped championship football game on television and brisk temperatures.

Travis Allen, his wife Katie and two young children live within walking distance of Duluth's Town Green and were motivated to start a new family tradition Saturday night. That said, he is still a man. Was he peeved to miss the big game?

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"Absolutely not," said Allen, who, like his wife, is from Savannah and graduated from Georgia Southern University. "This is more important."

So at the highest note of "Oh Holy Night," the big planted spruce near City Hall burst with thousands of professionally arranged lights, echoing the many strung around downtown, creating what Mayor Nancy Harris hailed as a "wonderland."

Kay Montgomery chairs the tree-lighting committee, an arm of the Duluth Fall Festival folks who put on the show. She's overseen the Christmas event for three decades and called Saturday's crowd the biggest.

"It's a wonderful way to bring all the people of the community together, to have just a wonderful annual event that everybody really enjoys," Montgomery said.

As for Santa, his planned eight-reindeer escort turned out to be just two -- the long-horned, hay-munching Donnor and Blitzen. Popular assumption held that Rudolph and company were busy having their hooves polished.