Austin chamber holds annual parade and tree lighting

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Holiday spirit was in the air Thursday as the Austin Chamber of Commerce kicked off the Christmas season by co-sponsoring a parade down Madison Avenue and a tree lighting ceremony in front of the Chicago Police Department’s 15th District headquarters.

“We’re just as important as Downtown Chicago,” said Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) as she shook hands and posed for pictures with Austin residents and other elected officials. “Christmas exists in the Austin community, and we light the tree to celebrate that.”

The chamber has worked with District 15 to organize the parade and tree lighting ceremony for seven years. With mild temperatures last week, the 2011 holiday event attracted dozens of participants.

“This is a wonderful thing to do to get the community to ban together,” said Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), who ponsored a float in the parade. “This puts smiles on peoples’ faces and lets them know there is more to Christmas than gifts.”

The parade also featured a float by the Austin Chamber of Commerce and one carrying Santa and Mrs. Claus sponsored by Mayfield Care Center, PPCC Wellness Center, ABC Bank, Urban Partnership Bank, Walgreens and Meade Electric.

Loretto Hospital, Forest Preserve District of Cook County, AT&T and Coca-Cola also helped sponsor the event.

“Our local businesses support this event,” said state Rep. Camille Lilly (D-Chicago), who acted as master of ceremonies. “We are lighting the tree on behalf of doing business in Austin, and I’m just so proud to be a part of this.”

Santa  and Mrs. Claus joined Lilly and 15th District Commander Walter Green for the countdown and tree lighting.

“This is a time for people to celebrate being alive and being free,” said Cook County Commissioner Earlean Collins (1st). “Let’s forget about any sadness and share our joy and give hope; let’s uplift the spirit of this community.”

Ben One and Christ The King Choir led singing around the lit tree. State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Westchester) led a group of children in singing Jingle Bells.

“It’s a blessing to bring in the holiday season with the Austin community,” said Lightford. “Businesses collaborated with police and the community to produce an event like this, now that’s harmony.”

Several officers could be seen wearing Santa hats as they directed traffic around the event, and children waited to get a photograph taken Santa and Mrs. Claus outside the police station.

“I’m happy to see something like this in this area,” said Austin resident Louise Smith, 39.

As she waited for the performance by Ben One, Smith and her 16-year-old daughter Amanda watched the tree lighting ceremony.

Amanda was with several of her friends who were eager to see Ben One.

“We’re happy to be here, this is a good thing for Austin.”

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