MIDLOTHIAN — With the threat of heavy rains, Midlothian leaders joined several other area cities by either canceling or shortening the annual Christmas celebration. Unfortunately, that meant there were no floats to be cheered or the arrival of Santa Claus to excite the young, but there was, however, an official start to the Midlothian holiday season — the lighting of the Heritage Square Christmas tree, Thursday evening.

“The people will still enjoy the tree lighting," said Mayor Bill Houston during the tree lighting held Thursday, Dec. 1 at Heritage Park. "One of the big things is even when the weather is not good, people will stand in front of the tree to get their picture made and take pictures of their families."

Houston went on to describe the painted panels around the base of the tree.

“Each panel is painted by a different school. Many times the parents will want to take pictures of their children in front of the panel of their child’s school,” Houston explained. “[...] There will be a lot of disappointment because there will not be a parade. However, this is not the first time. Several years ago, the parade was canceled due to ice. But anytime the parade is canceled there is a disappointment. This is a community thing that the community looks forward to every year."

Gina Moore, Special Events Coordinator for the City of Midlothian, said she was disappointed upon hearing of the cancellation but understood the need.

“When I first heard the parade was canceled, I was devastated. But in the interest of the small children, the walkers and combined with vehicles on the wet pavement, we felt there was a huge safety factor,” Moore said. “It was a group decision of the parade committee that the mayor agreed with."

Houston added that he "still wanted to give the community the lighting of the tree to celebrated the beginning of the Christmas season in the city."

Just as Houston predicted, residents filled the grounds of Heritage Park in anticipated of the annual lighting of the tree. And, just as in year's past, the "flipping of the switch" was bestowed upon the parade's Grand Marshal.

“I was shocked to be named the grand marshal and to light the tree," said Sard McClindon, the 5th annual Southern Star Christmas Celebration Grand Marshal. "I told them I didn’t know what to do. I could clean out their barn, but I didn’t know about riding in that convertible. I’m a cotton picker, not a parade waiver. But I’m still honored to have the privilege to be the tree lighter."

McClindon, a ninety-one-year-old and long-time resident of Midlothian, was chosen by the parade committee to serve as the distinguished guest. McClindon is active with the historical society, senior citizens center and the food pantry.

Following the opening prayer and the reading of the Christmas Story, McClindon flipped the switch to officially light the tree and begin the Christmas season in the city.