Bedecked in Santa hats and winter jackets, Fort Meade families brought their holiday cheer to combat the cold for the garrison’s annual tree lighting ceremony Friday evening outside the Main Post Chapel.
Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Rodwell L. Forbes merrily welcomed families as they arrived.
“Merry Christmas and happy holidays!” Forbes said. “Thanks for bringing the cold weather; it wouldn’t be the tree lighting without it. Get ready to light up the night, sing some carols and have a joyous time.”
The 45-minute ceremony, sponsored by the Religious Support Office, featured holiday music, carols, refreshments and a guest appearance from Santa Clause.
“Our goal is for the Fort Meade community to have a safe, fun, family-friendly event to kick off the holidays,” said Garrison Family Life Chaplain (Maj.) James Covey.
Volunteers passed out hot chocolate and cookies to eager children while the U.S. Army Field Band’s Federal Brass Instrumentalists performed a festive musical prelude.
Chaplain (Lt. Col.) David Cooper greeted the crowd and Garrison Chaplain (Col.) Warren Kirby led the invocation.
Troops from Fort Meade’s Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts amped up the holiday spirit with renditions of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Jingle Bells” and “Frosty the Snowman.”
Cooper urged children and parents to move closer to the tree for the official lighting while chaplain assistants from the RSO handed out candles and lit them for the attendees.
It took three days for Todd Gribling, grounds manager for Melwood, and his team to decorate the 65-foot tree. The decorations will stay up until Jan. 2.
“This community is very special,” Gribling said. “Families can come here while their loved one is away. No matter how cold it gets, everyone still comes to this event. It’s a very tight-knit community.”
Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard made his way to the front of the crowd to choose “one highly motivated Scout to help light the tree.” Cooper encouraged everyone to join in the countdown before the switch was flipped.
As the audience shouted “one,” the tree lit up with hundreds of multicolored string lights. Parents and children clapped, cheered and whistled to welcome the official start of the holiday season on Fort Meade.
The Federal Brass Instrumentalists performed “Silent Night” while the crowd sang along.
Suddenly, in the distance, the shriek of fire truck sirens could be heard.
“Something’s happening,” Cooper said to the crowd. “Something’s coming! What could that be?”
As the fire engine pulled up to the chapel, Cooper announced “It’s Santa Clause!”
Marine Staff Sgt. Jeremy Morrow held his 2-year-old son Jameson as children lined up to get a picture with Santa.
“This event helps get the kids out of the house,” Morrow said. “We try to teach them about the holiday spirit, togetherness and giving.”
For Morrow, who was stationed in Hawaii before coming to Fort Meade, the 32-degree temperature was “a lot colder than anticipated.”
Morrow attended the event with his wife, Megan, and their 9-month-old daughter Annabel.
“With any military service, there’s a sense of brotherhood and togetherness,” Morrow said. “There’s [a lot of people] who can’t relate to what we do, so it’s nice to come out and spend time with brothers and sisters in arms.”
Bethany Hancock, wife of Lt. Jeremy Hancock, waited in line with daughters Ansley, 7, and Blaire, 4, to snap a picture with the tree.
This was the family’s first time at the Fort Meade tree lighting ceremony, but it wasn’t their first time coming together with a post community to get in the holiday spirit. Before arriving at Fort Meade this past summer, the Hancocks were stationed in Georgia and Florida.
When asked what they were most excited for this Christmas, Ansley and Blaire were quick to respond.
“Snow, snow, snow!” Blaire shouted.
“My birthday,” Ansley added. “And seeing Santa!”
For Hancock, attending the ceremony was a way to do something fun with her family.
“Our daughters love the tree lighting,” she said. “It’s a tradition.”