Each year, honors for the two tallest Christmas trees in the United States bounce back and forth between Rockefeller Center in New York and the White House in our nation’s capital.
But always third on the list, sometimes sneaking into second place, is the Mayor’s Christmas Tree in Kansas City Missouri – right smack in the middle of America’s Heartland.
Of course, few things say Christmas more beautifully than Hallmark Cards. Seriously, it’s their business, and the corporate headquarters is Crown Center in Kansas City where the Mayor’s Christmas Tree stands throughout the holiday season. A lighting ceremony on the Friday night after Thanksgiving fills the streets with carolers and families bundled against the cold, many ready to don skates at the Ice Terrace, Kansas City’s only public outdoor rink.
Towering more than 100 feet above the festivities, the Mayor’s Christmas Tree is certainly a symbol of the season. But it’s what happens to the massive tree after the lights are unplugged and the plastic ornaments removed that truly makes the Mayor’s Christmas Tree a symbol of the holiday spirit.
The tree is stripped of its limbs and bark, then cut into wooden planks about ¼ inch thick. The creative artists at Hallmark Cards then begin to sketch out ideas for an ornament that will be made from the wood of that very special tree.
Each tree makes about 3,000 individually decorated ornaments, which go on sale only at Crown Center the next Thanksgiving, just minutes after the lights shine on a new, live Christmas tree outside. They’ve been doing this in Kansas City since 1987.
The unique design and collectible nature of the ornaments adds to their appeal. But it’s what happens to the money that really represents the spirit of Christmas. Proceeds of the ornament sales benefit the Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund, a charity that, since 1908, has helped feed, clothe, and provide housing to those Kansas Citians in need throughout the year. That’s Christmas in the Heartland.
Just a few blocks away, the lights on Kansas City’s beautiful Country Club Plaza outline the magnificent, yet unusual Spanish architecture, a symbol of Seville Spain, KC’s sister city. The Country Club is noted historically as the first shopping district in the United States designed specifically for the automobile, but today it’s noted for its great restaurants, high-end shops, and the numerous sculptures and fountains that create a museum-like experience as visitors explore the streets.
What started with a string of 16 lights over a doorway in 1925 has grown to become the holiday tradition for which Kansas City is best known around the country. For 90 years, the city has used the exact same style of lights, growing in length to numbers that can only be considered urban legend. Some people say it’s more than 75 miles of lights, but other educated minds say that’s impossible in the 15 square block area.
Kansas Citians and their holiday visitors love to debate the number of lights as they take horse-drawn carriages through the Plaza or climb to the top of Hall’s Parking Garage on Nichols Road for a family photo. It is the best of many places to get an all-encompassing shot of the holiday spectacle.
The Thanksgiving night lighting ceremony is a televised event in Kansas City with numerous helicopters hovering overhead and holiday revelers leaning out windows and filling balconies on the many hotels and apartments on the Plaza. An estimated 200,000 people cram into the Plaza for the lighting ceremony, so plan on getting there by no later than 4 p.m. to even consider getting a parking spot for the 6 p.m. start of the program.
Usually a local celebrity helps a child flip the switch, and Kansas City natives who’ve gone on to greater fame that have hosted the Plaza Lighting Ceremony include Gillian Flynn, Kate Spade, Eric Stonestreet, Jason Sudeikis, Paul Rudd, Janelle Monae, and Rob Riggle.
The Plaza lights are lit until mid-January, creating plenty of opportunities to get a special photo and enjoy this unique celebration of the Christmas holidays.
Which city has your favorite holiday festivities?
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A Midwest farm girl at heart, Diana Lambdin Meyer caught the roaming bug early in life. Diana married well - to a photographer who also has the travel bug and whose work in still and video complements her words. Now based in the Kansas City area, Diana is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers who makes a full-time living on the road and at the keyboard. Read about Diana's adventures on her blog, Mojotraveler or follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.
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