By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Dorothy Hunt, Kathleen Coca, Jackie Ulrich and sisters Claire Gross and Maureen McMahon have been close friends, by their estimation, for about 50 years.
They were palling around in Sea Isle City on Saturday when they saw something that all of them agreed was stunning in both its size and beauty – a 30-foot-tall artificial Christmas tree that serves as the centerpiece of the town’s holiday decorations.
“I had to take a breath. Wow, that is beautiful,” Ulrich said, looking upward at the towering tree.
“It’s so big that you can see it from all angles. It brightens up the whole downtown,” Coca added.
The super-sized tree, which overlooks Excursion Park just steps from the beach, is decorated with red, green and silver ornaments, white lights and a twinkling white star on top.
It has replaced another 30-foot-tall artificial holiday tree that stood in Excursion Park last year, but was destroyed during a coastal storm over the 2022 Christmas weekend. Fierce winds snapped the tree’s steel support cables and sent it crashing to the ground with such force that it bent the metal frame.
Sea Isle worked with its professional decorating company, Rileighs Outdoor Decor, to replace the old tree this year with a more life-like version that is already drawing raves from admirers.
Amanda and Barry Ebright, visitors from Downingtown, Pa., discovered the Christmas tree while they were enjoying a fall getaway at the shore on Saturday.
“We were never expecting this. This was a big surprise,” Barry said while emphasizing the word “big.”
Amanda called the tree “absolutely amazing.”
“I really like the tree and the other decorations they have around town,” she said.
The Ebrights spend their summer vacations in Sea Isle. They had planned to make this weekend their last visit to the shore in 2023, but are now thinking about returning over the Thanksgiving weekend for Sea Isle’s Christmas parade and holiday tree lighting ceremony.
“We wanted to come one more time, but maybe we’ll be back,” Amanda said.
As is tradition, Santa Claus joins Mayor Leonard Desiderio to light the tree after Sea Isle’s Christmas parade down Landis Avenue, capping off the city’s official holiday celebration. The parade and tree lighting will be held this year on Nov. 24 starting at 6 p.m.
“The tree is the centerpiece of our decorations here, so we are happy to have a brand new tree. We hope that we don’t have any strong winds again,” Desiderio said of avoiding a replay of last year.
With Santa coming down from the North Pole to make a special appearance at the shore, Desiderio confidently predicted that Sea Isle will have a grand Christmas parade and tree lighting celebration.
“We’re looking for a fabulous kickoff to our holiday season,” he said. “We’re going to have a great parade and tree lighting.”
In addition to the Christmas tree, Sea Isle has an array of other holiday decorations spread throughout town. As it does every year, Sea Isle decorates for the holidays to put everyone in a festive mood just before Santa comes to town.
Victorian-style lamp posts lining the John F. Kennedy Boulevard entryway are trimmed with garland and wreaths accented with red and gold bows. Christmas lights and snowflakes sparkle along JFK Boulevard and the Landis Avenue corridor in the downtown business district.
City Hall is decked out in strands of green garland and wreaths. “Nutcracker Suite” twin toy soldiers dressed in colorful uniforms and black top hats stand guard at the front entrance of City Hall.
Across the street from City Hall, giant gold, silver, green and red Christmas balls decorate the lawn at the Sea Isle City Welcome Center. Santa’s glittery sleigh is parked on the other side of the Welcome Center, waiting to take flight on Christmas Eve with the help of Rudolph and the other reindeer.
The decorations are another way to make the business district more inviting to holiday shoppers. Twinkling lights add to the cheery atmosphere. The traditional holiday decorations create a bit of whimsy and nostalgia for residents and visitors alike. The Christmas tree also serves as a towering backdrop for selfies.