It’s been a part of Winter Park’s holiday festivities for nearly 30 years, but now it’s time for a change.
The 30-foot-tall southern red cedar tree, which has served as the holiday tree of the city, has become a staple in Central Park in downtown and will be retired with a special ceremony this Saturday, Oct. 21.
The city of Winter Park and the Chamber of Commerce are looking to celebrate the tree and its role in the holiday season as the official holiday tree for the city.
A significant reason for the tree’s retirement comes from years of wear and tear from both weather and human interaction. Furthermore, the recent hurricane did not help, said Marketing & Communications Director Katherine Keller.
“It’s been kind of deteriorating, and the city knew that they were going to have to find a replacement for it,” Keller said. “After Irma came through, you could really see the damage on the tree. They decided it would be a good idea to let it go in a respectable way, and while we search for the new tree, get something a little bit festive so that people can still enjoy the holidays.”
The tree has had long run as the centerpiece of the city’s holiday celebrations since it was donated by former WFTV anchor Bob Opsahl in the late 1980s. It became part of Winter Park’s Christmas tradition with its first lighting ceremony in 1989.
Mayor Steve Leary, Opsahl and others will share their memories and give short talks on the holiday tree — with the highlight being the placing of a plaque commemorating the tree. A photographer also will be there to take photos of anyone who would like to take a photo with the tree.
Although the ceremony will give locals a chance to reminisce about the long-standing tree, it actually will not be going away for the time being. Currently, the plan is to keep the tree up in its spot in Central Park for the public to enjoy until the city deems it completely unsafe, Keller said.
In its stead, the city will install a temporary modern digital tree that will be put up some time just after Thanksgiving — just in time for the annual Christmas tree lighting Dec. 1.
“It will be 30 feet tall and 14 feet wide, (with) 5,000 LED RGB lights sequenced to holiday music,” said Clarissa Howard, communications director for the city of Winter Park.
The digital tree will be a fun and much more interactive way for Winter Parkers to enjoy the holidays, though it’s not planned to be a permanent solution to take the place of the current and real holiday tree.
The idea for the digital tree came during the current search for a live tree. Officials recognized the importance of having an actual tree the community could gather around during the holiday season.
“We understand how important that heritage factor is on having a real Christmas tree — we want it to look beautiful and stand on its own, and that’s why they are really taking the time and effort to find the perfect one,” Keller said. “I know it took them time to find the one donated by Bob Opsahl, so they just want to make sure that it stands in comparison.”