CONCORD -- The wearable twinkling holiday lights, decorations and tree lighting ceremony are among many traditions during the city's official holiday kickoff.
Concord residents first asked the 1923 City Council to put up Christmas lights in Todos Santos Plaza, according to City Clerk Mary Rae Lehman's search of old council agendas. Ninety years later, the tradition of lights continues.
Nearly 1,000 people gathered at the annual Tree Lighting and Mayor's Sing-Along on Dec. 7, with visitors of all ages sporting brightly blinking Christmas pins, circulating in the plaza to see Santa's arrival, find refreshments, take carriage rides and watch entertainment.
"It was so much fun to see all of the lights blinking from the stage," said Leslye Asera, Concord's community relations manager.
Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister added the 2013 pin to her unintended collection of more than 20.
"I remember I kept the 'Downtown Comes Alive after Five' pin on my jacket. The next year I just added another one. Eventually my jacket was covered with pins," Hoffmeister explained.
"Then I saw Mike Pastrick was wearing them on his scarf. That's when I started pinning them on a scarf."
The 2013 pin, designed by Highlands Elementary School fifth-grader Amanda Dahlgren, depicts the restoration of the beacon atop Mount Diablo combined with a Christmas tree.
Concord advertises a request for designs from elementary schools throughout the city, but Highlands teacher Annette Stevenson has boosted student participation.
"It started when I saw an ad for a Mother's Day essay contest about 14 years ago," Stevenson remembered. "About six years ago, Florence Weiss mentioned the Christmas pin and I made up a flier to broadcast news of the contest. I do it for so many reasons: to get (students) involved and to learn, and to be a good citizen."
Pins have changed over the years.
"At first, the whole pin lit up and later they initiated the blinking light," said Weiss, downtown program manager.
"I think (the lighted pin tradition) started when downtown merchants prepared for a tree lighting more than 20 years ago," Asera recalled. "They came up with the theme of lighting up the whole downtown for the holidays."
Art for the first few pins was donated by a downtown merchant, and the owner of Contra Costa Awards and Embroidery ordered them, according to Asera.
In subsequent years, a citywide elementary school contest was conducted to find winning designs.
Past design themes included a guitar, representing the Concordstock events, and the Charlie Brown tree, that sparked national attention. In the midst of severe economic cutbacks, the city chose to decorate a live tree growing in the plaza that had brown needles, due to the well water used in the park during a drought.
"Next year it might be a crane," Weiss said. "Emissaries from Concord's sister city, Kitakami, Japan, will be coming to visit in 2014. We are planning a 1,000-crane display downtown."
Contact Dana Guzzetti at email@example.com or call 925-202-9292.