SACRAMENTO, CA – DECEMBER 2, 2021 – CHRISTMAS TREE LIGHTING
After a year’s hiatus, Governor Gavin Newsom and First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom hosted the 90th Annual California State Capitol Tree Lighting Ceremony last week. This year’s 65’ white fir is decorated with approximately 500 hand-crafted ornaments made by children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The event came just one day after Newsom’s announcement that the state had detected the country’s first omicron case. The celebration’s emphasis on diversity and strength in the midst of difficulty and division therefore made for a poignant program.
Giants vs. Dodgers
The evening began with hosts Renel Brooks-Moon and Todd Leitz, announcers for the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, making a lighthearted pitch for unlikely allies working together.
“The holidays are a time for us to set aside our differences, and in that spirit Renel, we would like to pay our respects to California’s second-best baseball team…” joked Leitz.
In front of a pared-back, in-person audience, leaders of the Wilton Rancheria then took the stage for an opening blessing and song. The program continued with music from the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, and the lighting of a menorah for the fifth night of Hanukkah by Rabbi Joel Simonds and his sons.
“As we end a year that at times we have seen darkness and destruction, a year in which we have seen oppression, we take a moment of miracle,” said the Jewish Center for Justice leader, ”and we rebuild, like they did from days of old.”
Next, over thirty members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus arrived in black masks and bright red sweaters with gold SFGMC ornaments to sing “Merry Everything.”
The piece began with two beautiful solos, as the singers delineated all the various holidays this time of year. Composer Ernie Lijoi’s touching song continues with a plea for peace and putting aside differences.
So often we disagree
about the things that we hold true.
Really, it’s okay, I’ll choose to love you either way
And Merry Everything to you.
The chorus was followed by charming mariachi singer Pedrito Fregoso. The youngster wowed the crowd with his upbeat bilingual version of “Jingle Bells,” before actress and singer Amber Riley took the stage in a seriously glam green sequined dress and silver heels.
Behind her, the tree unexpectedly lit up and stayed on for Riley’s first song before, oops, it was shut off. Ignoring the premature illumination, the crowd clapped along to Riley’s bouncy “That’s What Christmas Means to Me.” The former Glee star has a fun, authentic presence and she carried Stevie Wonder’s Christmas classic with just a keyboard backing her and her great chops. She then sang a soulful, lovely rendition of Nat King Cole’s “Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire.” There was something very sweet in the air when she finished.
After a spoken word performance from Sacramento area poet Danielle “Yelly” Scales, Siebel Newsom and the Governor took the stage. Siebel Newsom gave a gracious speech before Newsom admitted that he “needed this,” noting how hard the past few years have been on all of us. He talked about the spirit of resiliency and unity.
“There’s no leak on your side of our boat,” he said. “We rise and fall together.”
Newsom then invited six-year-old Hadiyyah Esmat and her mother to the stage. After a crowd countdown, the developmentally disabled child pushed the button to light up the tree for the second time that night. The Oakland choir and Riley sang a rousing traditional then gospel version of “Joy to the World” as the Governor’s four children climbed onto the stage to join their parents.
It was an uplifting end to a program that sought to help us all feel connected and respected, no matter our individual holiday traditions and beliefs. Merry everything, indeed!
To see the video of the entire Christmas tree lighting program, please see the Governor’s Youtube page.
* * *
All photos are copyright Chris Allan 2021 and cannot be used without my written permission. Please contact me for usage rights. Thank you for reading my blog post “Merry Christmas,” a blog about Sacramento’s Christmas tree lighting To learn more about me and my work, please see my About page.