Zilker hosts Christmas lighting

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Austinites gathered in Zilker Park to celebrate the coming of the holidays with the annual Christmas tree lighting, a tradition since 1967.

Visitors traditionally spin under the large tree-shaped light-structure to see the swirling optical illusion.

Since 1992, the Christmas tree lighting has coincided with the annual Trail of Lights. This year, the city canceled the trail due to a lack of funding.

Regardless, hundreds gathered at the park and listened to performances by the Austin Civic Wind Ensemble and students singing Christmas carols from Barton Hills Elementary.

The mayor announced winners of an art competition, which included elementary students from schools in the Austin area.

Children sat on the lap of a blue-clad Santa, courtesy of Operation Blue Santa, an organization started by the Austin Police Department that provides gifts for more than 4,000 families with under-privileged children in the Austin area.

Scott Friedman, director of Field Services for the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, has been coming to the lighting for the past 15 years. He said he likes the family atmosphere, and brought his 7- and 10-year-old daughters, who like spinning under the tree.

“It’s good that [the mayor] supports this, especially in a downturn economy with budgets, because the Trail of Lights isn’t happening so it’s nice they have this,” Friedman said.