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Showering Silverdale with seasonal spirit

Santa Claus leads the crowd during the lighting “count up” at the Silverdale Christmas tree lighitng ceremony on Saturday in front of the American Marine Bank. Top, onlookers gaze up at the lit tree, believed to be the “tallest living Christmas tree” in the world. - Photo by Aaron Managhan
Santa Claus leads the crowd during the lighting “count up” at the Silverdale Christmas tree lighitng ceremony on Saturday in front of the American Marine Bank. Top, onlookers gaze up at the lit tree, believed to be the “tallest living Christmas tree” in the world.
— image credit: Photo by Aaron Managhan

Silverdale’s holiday beacon is lighting up the nighttime sky once again.

More than 100 residents and visitors turned out to witness the “world’s tallest living Christmas tree” come to life, displaying its colors for the first time this season as they watched from American Marine Bank on Saturday.

Despite a breezy chill, onlookers ranging from the elderly to small children, waited excitedly for Santa Claus to arrive and help light the tree.

“Mr. Christmas Tree” Bill Seelow, who has helped maintain and light the tree since the 1960s, said despite the cold, the weather couldn’t have been better.

“It’s such a beautiful night,” Seelow said, staring up at the tree, located at 3510 Anderson Hill Road. “The crowd is bigger this year. It’s just great. People are all enjoying it.”

While keeping warm with cocoa and hot cider provided by the Silverdale Kiwanis, visitors were treated to a half-hour of carols by Brownsville Elementary School fourth-graders under the direction of Shirley Jenkins. One of the students, 11-year-old Jacob Gile, said he was excited he got to participate in this year’s event.

“I like seeing the tree,” he said. “I like decorating trees and all that.”

He said he wasn’t very nervous, as the class had been practicing the songs since September.

“It was kind of a relief from a long wait,” Gile said. “It was pretty nice to be able to entertain everyone.”

After the performance, children looked on as Santa arrived in style. Escorted by the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department, Santa Claus rolled up in the back of a fire engine. Hank Mann-Sykes, who has been involved with the festivities for about as long as Seelow, said he heard the kids getting anxious as Santa arrived.

“To me, the little kids, that’s what is so cool,” Mann-Sykes said. “When I walked around the fire engine to get Santa, I could hear the little kids, ‘He’s got candy canes!’ Just going nuts for nickel candy canes.”

Mann-Sykes, the master of ceremonies for the event, led Santa Claus to the front of the bank, where the duo counted up to 10 to mark the tree lighting. He said they don’t count down so that the smaller kids can stay involved. He said the large crowd validated the ceremony’s past move from Tuesdays to Saturdays.

“This is a good crowd,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons we changed it to Saturday. Parents used to struggle to get their kids down here. Now they don’t have too.”

As Santa Claus and Mann-Sykes led the crowd to the end of the count, the tree lit up, sending power to its more than 400 lights. Mann-Sykes said that sight, not the cold, is what gave him the shivers.

“I get a shiver up and down my spine,” he said. “Sure I’m cold. It’s cold out here. But it just exudes that feeling of community. It sets us apart from other communities.”

Robin Johnson, a member of the Silverdale Dandy Lions, has been attending the event for 25 years. He said the kids are still what makes it so special.

“It’s getting better and bigger,” Johnson said. “Just watching the kids and their faces light up.”

Aside from a few strands, the tree lit up to

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