Columbia mayor, Lexington lawmakers intend to save Carolighting celebration

By Jack Kuenzie - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - For more than half a century, South Carolina has celebrated the start of the Christmas holidays with music and prayers and the lighting of the big Christmas tree at the State House. The Governor's Carolighting Ceremony has often drawn huge crowds to Columbia. 

This year, however, organizers have had a difficult time putting the event together. Now, Midlands political leaders are stepping in to try to save the Carolighting.

The Carolighting event looked like a no-go on Tuesday, as organizers including the city's breakfast optimist club were pessimistic about the kind of participation they'd been seeing. But the Carolighting program might survive in some form after all.

It has marked the start of South Carolina's Christmas holiday season since 1956. But this year, planning for the annual Governor's Carolighting ceremony at the State House ran into such serious trouble that organizers announced they would call off the entire event.

"The reason for calling it off is a decrease in the number of volunteers that we have to put it on," said Paul McClanahan of the Breakfast Optimist Club. "And the people that have to put it on have to be capable, energetic, talented and have time to do it and the resources to do it."

The Carolighting ceremony, broadcast live on ETV, has in some years drawn crowds of more than 10,000 to the capital. Late Tuesday afternoon, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and Lexington County lawmakers said they were working on a plan to maintain the tradition.

"It's so important that at this time of year, when all Americans always come together to work for the benefit of the community, it's a seminal event," said Benjamin. "It's a seminal opportunity for us to show the good that we're made of.

Mayor Benjamin, along with Lexington County Rep. Kenny Bingham and Representative-elect Rick Quinn, say they will pull together schools, church groups and others to put on the ceremony. It could be a bit scaled down compared to previous years, but would at least keep the annual tradition alive.

The State Christmas tree will be placed and decorated in its usual place on the north side of the State House. The tree is expected to be lit on Sunday, November 28th at 6:00pm, but without the pomp and circumstance of the Carolighting event.

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