Friday, December 10, 2010

Hundreds attend Zilker Tree lighting

Updated: Sunday, 05 Dec 2010, 11:57 PM CST
Published : Sunday, 05 Dec 2010, 6:49 PM CST

AUSTIN (KXAN) - Hundreds gathered for the annual lighting of the Zilker Holiday Tree this evening and thousands are expected to stop by until it is lights out at midnight.

Among the crowd bearing the cold temperatures was Makayla Quintanilla and her 7-month-old daughter Lillian.

"We are looking to start a new tradition," said Quintanilla, who moved to Austin a few months ago.

Makayla and Lllian watched as children ages 5-10, who won the Zilker Holiday Tree Art Contest, flipped the switch to light the 155 foot tall tree.? The tree is composed of 39 streamers, each holding 81 multi-colored, 25 watt bulbs, totaling 3,309 lights.

"Oh she loved it.? She loved the lights and Santa too," Quintanilla explained.

The Quintanilla family was not the only family lured to the lights because of the addition of a little one.

"It's really good to see all the people out and the lights are just exciting, the food, the smells, it is just a really good time," said Rob Fitzgerald as he held his 18-month-old daughter Vivian on his shoulders.? "We came out because of her."

Neither the Quintanilla or Fitzgerald family will get to see the infamous Trail of Lights.

City leaders decided to? pull the plug on the annual display earlier this year citing economic issues.

Still, event organizers remain optimistic crowds will still come to see the tree that is infamous for illuminating the Austin skyline.

"I think Austinites understand that under the economy that we are in we have to find alternatives to keep our parks and recreation department going," said Victor Ovalle, program manager for the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department.

With the light display going dark, many Zilker enthusiasts are heading to out-of-town displays like the Walkway of Lights in Marble Falls to get their fix of twinkling lights.

"It is a tough competition for sure," replied McCall Graf, when asked how the Walkway of Lights compared to Zilker.? Graf was in Marble Falls visiting family and decided to take in the display.

Ovalle told KXAN he does not feel the city is in competition with outlying light displays in cities like Marble Falls and Johnson City .

"If citizens go to neighboring communities and enjoy those shows, there's nothing wrong with that," Ovalle explained.

Still, to keep people coming to see the tree, the City of Austin and its community partners are hosting more than 50 family-friendly holiday events throughout December including Austin's New Year celebration that will feature live music and fireworks at Auditorium Shores December 31.

Also this year, the City will sponsor movies in the park.? At 7 p.m. on December 16, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" will be shown at Republic Square Park.

Another new attraction is the "Flipped on Christmas" light and sound experience at Zilker Park each night near the Zilker Tree.? Each evening from Dec. 15-23 there will be a 12 minute light show set to holiday music.

Meanwhile, the Tree will be lit up every night from dusk until midnight until December 31.?

Other holiday events include:

  • Community Entertainment Stage-Performances will be held nightly at the Zilker Hillside Theatre, Dec, 12-20
  • Armadillo Christmas Bazaar-Holiday shopping at Palmer Events Center, Dec. 15-24
  • Zilker Holiday Tree 5K-Dec. 26



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