OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - The Christmas season has officially kicked off in Ocean Springs as Marshall Park was turned into a Southern version of the North Pole on Thursday.
While the annual tree lighting ceremony is a decades-old event, newcomers keep it alive.
It's always has been a part of Mike Impey's life. Now, the alderman's reading of the "The Night Before Christmas" is a staple.
"A lot of people look forward to it," Impey said. "I grew up with it, and personally, it's important to me to be able to share this tradition with my children and bring it to a whole new generation."
And that new generation came out in numbers. Among the hundreds of participants, many were first timers.
"I've been here a while, but we're bringing a baby into the world this year, this Christmas, and so we thought it would be a good time to start a new tradition," said Ali Robertson of Ocean Springs.
Drea Brooks and her family just moved to Ocean Springs from New York. Their new tradition is for children - human and the furry kind.
"We were just so excited to bring the kids to get some Christmas cookies and meet Santa," Brooks said. "And you can't beat the weather. We're used to freezing cold temperatures and snow."
The grounds were filled with activities and treats for the kids, and music from the First Baptist Church Worship Choir rang through the downtown area.
Santa stopped off at his Ocean Springs home and stirred up the crowd as he counted down the lighting of the tree.
First-timers Jerry and Jacqueline Huckabee, were impressed.
"It's great to see people out for Christmas," Jerry said. "It's something that's good for the whole community. Get together and kind of just meet and greet and meet new people."
Added Jacqueline, "I love it. It gives us a nice small town feel. We see all the little kids running around and the carolers. It's really nice to get us in the Christmas spirit."
The event sponsored The Lord is My Help Food Drive, Operation Blue Christmas Toy Drive and the Jackson County Animal Shelter Donation Drive.