Santee tree lighting returns after pandemic hiatus: ‘There’s a lot of love in this community’


SANTEE, Calif. – Thanksgiving is less than a week away and the holiday spirit already is in full swing.

Several San Diego County communities held tree-lighting events Friday night to mark the start of the season, including in Santee where residents gathered near to spread some holiday cheer. An estimated 5,500 people came out to make up for lost time after last year’s event was canceled due to the pandemic.

There were families and smiling kids taking part in numerous activities including bounce houses, rides, sledding and photo opportunities with jolly Old Saint Nick.

“Big man flew down from the North Pole,” said Jon Shellhammer, a special events supervisor in Santee.

Mayor John Minto was joined by fellow councilmembers to emcee the evening and get the crowd excited before the tree officially was lit and fireworks filled the sky.

“There’s a lot of love in this community and I’m thankful for that,” Minto said. “There’s a lot of neighbors helping neighbors and I’m thankful for that.”

Weeks after a devastating plane crash in a Santee neighborhood that killed the pilot and a UPS driver on the ground, people have continued to show up for each other through a trying time in the community.

“One thing is absolutely sure: we keep coming together regardless of what the issue is,” Minto said. “We just get better, and better and better.”

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