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Yuletide Joy Fills Madison Square Park at Nation's Oldest Tree Lighting

By Mary Johnson | December 5, 2012 6:59am

FLATIRON — WIth dozens of strollers and a flood of excited children, Madison Square Park launched its holiday celebrations with its annual tree lighting Tuesday.

This year marked the 100th flick of the switch. The first took place back in 1912, when Madison Square Park became the site of the first public tree lighting in the country.

Back then, the tree stood 70 feet high and, as The New York Times reported at the time, hundreds of lights colored the tree "like blossoms bursting into bloom."

In 2012, the tree is a good bit smaller, standing at roughly 30 feet high. But instead of hundreds of lights hanging from its branches, there are more than 10,000.

At the event Tuesday, carols sung by the New York Life Singers and kid-friendly songstress Audra Rox blared through loudspeakers, and children frolicked on a bed of branches laid around the base of the glowing tree.

"I love that it is a little more intimate than other tree lightings in the city," said Ashley Melgar, 33, who brought her three children from Harlem for the event. "It feels more like a community event."

Melgar said she has attended the tree lighting the past four years in a row. Her 6-year-old son, her oldest child, has been to each one and looks forward to it every year.

"This is one of the only times we can be this close to a tree lighting," Melgar added.

Jon Baker, 41, lives near the park and has attended the tree lighting ceremony at Madison Square Park for the past five years in a row.

As the lights went up Tuesday night, he danced with his 3-year-old daughter, Mya, who said her favorite part of the ceremony was "the lights" and, of course, "the star."

Christina Minaudo said she found out about the event after taking her 2-year-old daughter, Ella, to a music lesson with Audra Rox in Long Island City.

"Really excited to be here," Minaudo said.

"I didn't even know about the history. Who would've thought?