More than 3,500 children and their parents – many dressed in their holiday best – attended the second annual tree lighting ceremony hosted by the East Aldine Management District at the Town Center.

The festivities, which included camel rides, visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, a petting zoo and a nativity scene drew three times as many people as last year’s event.

(If you missed it, please know that for family photos, the giant Christmas tree will stay lit during evening hours through December).

“We want to offer the people of our community a fun holiday celebration, without having to drive all the way into downtown Houston,” said Alma DeAlejandro, director of community events for the district. “I think it’s just great that we had so many people come out to celebrate with us.”

Many community members volunteered or donated money to make the event special for the children of East Aldine.

More than 500 free toys were given away through the Toys in the Hood program of the Bayou City Car Club, a charity sponsored by Gilbert Flores of GS Custom. Club members, who drive classic cars, also made a classic “clean-up crew,” DeAlejandro said.

“This is an amazing group of individuals with an 8-year history of donating toys to the community,” she said.

Also, Seila and Armando Ybarra volunteered to wear their beautiful costumes as Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Hundreds of smaller toys were “won” by kids who participated enthusiastically in a big “loteria” game conducted by DeAlejandro, who donned a green elf dress and red-and-white striped stockings for the holiday party.

“I enjoyed playing the large loteria game with the kids. They had a blast and when their board won the whole group cheered for one another. Everyone was a winner. They received small toys donated by Cantus Kitchen,” DeAlejandro said. “The game allowed me to announce some of the other events we have during the year and logos of programs that are available to the community.”

Other district employees wandered the event dressed as The Grinch and the Gingerbread Man.

Kids and parents also enjoyed free tamales, pan dulce and hot cocoa, as a warm breeze drifted across the great lawn where a giant inflatable Santa allowed shy kids to skip seasonal nerves. Other children clambered around in a Christmas-themed “snow globe” that made for great photos.

Cell phones and cameras also captured scenes of brave children who ventured inside a petting zoo that featured a baby camel, a llama, several sheep, and a small donkey. At the nativity scene children preferred the angel costumes over the shepherds’ garb, as they struck sweet and sometimes prayerful poses.

DeAlejandro said she has already made a mental note: “I’m going to order more angel costumes.”

On the great stage of the amphitheater, Victorian carolers entertained the audience before the talented Carver Middle School Orchestra played a variety of holiday favorites.

“I am very grateful for Carver Orchestra students sharing their amazing talent with us by filling our hearts with joyful music of the season,” she said.

As for the long lines for the camel ride, DeAlejandro apologized.

“I knew the lines were going to be long for that particular ride, and I wanted to get at least two camels but couldn’t find another supplier.”

Special Events Houston has only one camel, she said.

Also contributing support for the holiday celebration were “our Town Center partners, including BakerRipley, Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, the Aldine Police Department, and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office,” DeAlejandro said.

— by Anne Marie Kilday