Local, national and international celebrities showed up in Manassas Friday night for the annual tree lighting ceremony on the lawn in front of the Manassas Museum.
SpongeBob SquarePants, Kermit the Frog, Sebastian the Crab and Santa Claus mingled with a crowd of about 1,500 spectators while everyone waited for Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief Charles Moose to arrive and give the tree-lighting countdown.
Moose gained notoriety after he led a task force of area law enforcement officers in October when 13 area people were gunned down by snipers.
As the sun set and a crescent moon rose, adults sipped at steaming paper cups, children tossed snowballs at each other, and the Osbourn High School Marching band played Christmas music from steps of the museum.
All the while, people speculated as to whether or not Moose would indeed make it to town.
White paper bags with votive candles inside lit the walkway to the museum’s entrance with a warm, yellow light.
Dave Russell, committee chairman for Boy Scout Troop 1188, said the bags with candles inside are called luminaries. It took five scouts from the troop more than five hours to prepare 500 bags for the ceremony.
It took about a half a dozen scouts and several of their leaders about an hour to place and light all of the luminaries.
Carolers from The Center for the Arts, dressed in greatcoats, top hats, bonnets and shawls stationed themselves out of earshot of the band and sang Christmas standards beneath the glow of a garlanded street light in front of the train station.
People milled about and speculated that Moose was probably stuck in traffic somewhere between Virginia and Maryland.
The band, undaunted by the cold, played on.
Finally, in a scene reminiscent of so many press conferences under different circumstances, Charles Moose, accompanied by uniformed law enforcement personnel, came from inside and approached the microphone.
Prince William Police Chief Charlie T. Deane and Manassas Police Chief John J. Skinner spoke first.
Skinner thanked the citizens of the region for their help during the sniper crisis in October and told the crowd that the killing spree would not have been halted if not for the tips from members of the community.
Deane introduced Moose and praised his leadership during the sniper attacks.
Moose also thanked the citizenry and commented on the spirit of cooperation that had been engendered between the public and law enforcement during the crisis.
“It feels so good to have people come up and compliment us on the work we do,” Moose said.
“I just hope that the positive feeling can go on forever and ever,” he said.
Then he counted to three and gave the signal to turn on the white lights, which festooned a 12-foot evergreen in the museum’s front yard.
The crowd cheered.
Danny Dutch went to the tree lighting ceremony with his wife Tammy and their eight-month-old daughter, Faith.
This year was the Manassas family’s first visit to a tree-lighting ceremony and Dutch said conditions couldn’t have been better.
“There hasn’t been a snow this early in years,” the Dale City firefighter said.
“This is perfect,” Dutch, 34, said.
“It’s a crisp night. There’s not much wind, it’s cold but it feels good and there’s snow on the ground,” he said.
Staff writer Keith Walker can be reached at (703) 878-8063.