Destin’s Christmas celebration dates back to 1915 when “Uncle Billy” donned the first Santa suit. Flash forward almost 100 years later and the annual event still captures the heart of the city.
“I remember growing up and waiting in anticipation for Santa to come out,” said Cyron Marler, who is a great grandson of William T. “Uncle Billy” Marler. “Most of my generation remembers growing up with it.”
More than 300 moms, dads, children and grandparents gathered at the Community Center Thursday night to share in song, dance and community spirit before lighting the city’s Christmas tree, officially ringing in the holiday season.
With holiday punch and hot chocolate in hand, the appreciative crowd tapped their toes and sang along to holiday favorites such as “Jingle Bells” and performances by the Destin Middle School cheerleaders, Noah’s Ark Preschool, and Dance Elite.
“Parents love to watch their children on stage,” Marler said. “You could see all of the flashbulbs going off.”
Local musician Calvin Jasper lent his vocal talents to the celebration by performing “When Snowflakes Fall,” which was written by DMS Chorus Teacher Omar Hart. The performance was a crowd favorite.
In the old days, Marler said the annual celebration was held on Christmas Eve and a fish fry took place in order to raise money to buy gifts for the city’s children.
“We would sing ‘Jingle Bells’ as loud as we could,’ “ he added, noting that 1992 was the last time the “original” Christmas celebration was held, before it became an actual city event.
Mayor Sam Seevers said she remembers taking her children, now grown ups, to the annual celebration and the joy it brought to their faces.
“It’s part of the DNA of this city and who we are,” she said. “With the ever changing and evolving Destin that we have now, it’s nice to know that we will always have one steadfast event that will never change.”
As the evening wrapped up, the youngsters had a chance to visit with Santa and share their Christmas wishes.
For 6-year-old Lilly Stuart, a guitar was on her holiday wish list, telling The Log “I’m starting to learn the piano.”
A Dancing Dora would light up the holidays for 3-year-old Emilyn Kilpatrick, who was joined on Santa’s lap by her 6-month-old brother, Wyatt.
With almost a century of history behind it, Marler said he hopes to see the annual Christmas celebration carry on for another 100 years.
“The city is our family, and as long as we continue on this tradition, you will see kids carry it on to their children,” he said.