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It’s two minutes to five on an unseasonably warm November day, and I’m waiting for the 11 Northeast bus to shepherd me into downtown Kansas City. I didn’t plan the pristine weather for my trip to the infamous Mayor’s Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony, held annually outside of the Crown Center shops, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take credit for it. The event begins at 5:30 p.m., and according to the handy RideKC phone app, I should be arriving shortly thereafter.
The bus arrives promptly, though that fact combined with the immaculate 69-degree weather leaves me wondering if this trip is coming together almost too easily. I’m on the hunt for adventure, after all, and up until now, the trip has been clinically executed. So as the bus makes it through its byzantine route, I rashly decide to spice things up, manufacturing some adventure on my own. At 5:20 p.m., I disembark the bus at 11th and Grand, taking a bold leap of faith in setting out for the nearest KC Streetcar stop on Main.
The good news is that the timing was impeccable; I didn’t have to wait at all for the streetcar to arrive. The bad news is that in order for that to be the case, I was forced into an unseemly, hard-charging sprint towards the streetcar that was already loading passengers at my desired stop. The ill-suited scurry left me winded – yet another reminder that my infrequent, largely unplanned bursts of exertion should be lumped together more regularly, in a practice known as exercise – though I did slide into the standing room only streetcar moments before takeoff. On the short trip to Union Station, just a brisk walk to my ultimate destination, I couldn’t help but notice all the smiling faces on board. Sure, my idea to tie the streetcar into the trip wasn’t unique, and I likely added to the length of travel with the gambit, but there was camaraderie in the setback. Once we arrived at Union Station, the majority of the streetcar riders set out towards Crown Center in a cloud of limbs and excited conversation.
The street was blocked off as we approached Grand and Pershing, in yet another sign of the event’s largesse. Traffic was heavy, and parking seemed nonexistent. As I made my way up Grand, the crowd thickened. Every tree in the public square was strung with white lights, including 6,000 lights for the towering 100-foot Christmas tree which served as the event’s centerpiece (those weren’t turned on yet, as my goofy selfie will attest). There were carolers singing, though in the throes of the crowd, amongst what seemed like billions of my closest friends, I couldn’t pinpoint from exactly where the music was emanating. After a few minutes of sleuthing – let’s be real, I just asked somebody important looking – I spotted the stage. When I approached the temporary fencing that surrounded the performers, the look of concern from the makeshift gatekeeper reminded me that I hadn’t formally RSVP’d for the event. Thankfully, someone I owe a great deal of gratitude recognized me as press, and I made it stage-side. Once there I learned that after the holidays, the wood from the Christmas tree will be used to construct commemorative ornaments, which will then be sold to benefit the Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund. The charity, I was told, would benefit underprivileged seniors, disabled individuals and children in the community. I got close enough to Mayor Sly James to suggest that he jump up and sing with the carolers; he was kind enough to demur in the interests of “leaving it to the professionals.”
James then hopped on stage to address the attendees. He gamely showed off merchandise created to support the charity – a commemorative shirt designed by Charlie Hustle – and thanked the crowd for their support.
“With your help, we can continue to bring holiday joy to all those who need it most,” James said.
Flanked by Sporting KC President Jake Reid and defender Seth Sinovic, as well as a handful of kids, James then flipped the ceremonial switch to power on the lights for the Christmas tree. Whether it was the bright lights or the brief fireworks show that accompanied it, I found myself caught up in the moment. So much so, in fact, that I uncharacteristically posed for a selfie in front of the newly-lit tree.
It was fun, I tell you, and you can do it too. Simply take the 11 Northeast to 11th and Grand, walk a couple of blocks to your nearest KC Streetcar stop at 12th and Main, disembark at Union Station, and make the trek up the hill to Crown Center.
From there, all you have to do is quash your pride, ignore the haters, and pose for an embarrassing selfie in front of a 100-foot Christmas tree. What’s not to like?
Did you miss the Mayor’s Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, but still want to have some downtown fun this holiday season? Jump on the 11 bus route yourself on any Saturday through December 23 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. to enjoy a Downtown Dazzle trolley ride. The free trolley rides will take attendees back and forth between Crown Center and the Power and Light District, pointing out holiday lighting displays throughout, including a robust display in Washington Square Park.
Bonus: here are some more photos of the lights, after the switch was flipped: