Around North Florida Regional Medical Center’s pond, 95,000 lights were lit Friday and outlined with Christmas trees, gingerbread men and snowmen.
About 10,000 people applauded and cheered at 6:15 p.m. when the lights turned on at the 28th Annual Pond Lighting Ceremony, which was hosted by the hospital, located at 6500 W. Newberry Road, and included free activities such as face painting, ornament decorating and pictures with Santa.
Donations from attendees and proceeds from food trucks at the event went to Gainesville’s chapter of Toys for Tots, a national organization run by the U.S. Marine Corps that provides gifts to children whose parents cannot afford them, said Bradley Palmer, the director of marketing and communications at the hospital. Most of the donations at the event were in the form of toys.
“It’s really part of a Gainesville tradition,” Palmer said.
Individuals could exchange an unwrapped gift for a pass with access to all rides, such as a sled ride on a hill of fake snow. Attendees who didn’t donate a gift paid for a pass to access the rides. The hospital used 24,000 pounds of ice to make the snow for the hill, which was a new addition to the annual event, Palmer said.
“North Florida wanted to do something to really improve,” he said. “The sled-riding hill was our big addition.”
This year’s ceremony was dedicated to the memory of Lance Cpl. Phillip Paul Clark, one of the hospital employee’s sons who was hit by an improvised explosive device in the Middle East in 2010, Palmer said.
Gainesville resident Terri McKimmey, 56, who has attended the event for more than 10 years, watched and listened to the Gainesville High School Naval Junior ROTC caroling Christmas songs. Other performers during the night included The Sedoctaves, a UF student a cappella group.
“(Previous years’) wasn’t as good as this,” she said about the ceremony. “This is much better. I think the singing and lights are the most beautiful part.”