COSTA MESA — Santa Claus played the trumpet. Then, all of the sudden, it was time for everyone to celebrate.

Because Thursday night, Santa said, was the night to light the community tree.

"It's the beginning of us getting into the Christmas spirit," said Penny Fleming, of Newport Beach. "What would we do without the lighting of the tree? It's the first night you can say Merry Christmas."

South Coast Plaza's 96-foot white fir holiday tree lit up all of the mall's Town Center Park. Kids had to look high up to see its star perched on top.

Santa and Mrs. Claus, along with students from Santa Ana's Orange County High School of the Arts, rang in the season with holiday songs.

Children were mesmerized as proud parents captured the moment with photos.

It was their second year at the tree lighting for Irvine twins Angelina and Alex Salerno, both 10.

"I like watching the show and I like Christmas," Alex said.

Angelina said she and her brother have been so good to their parents. She's sure they've been put on Santa's good list.

And then there was 19-months-old Devyn Mitchell, who stood in her mother Brook's lap and moved back and forth to the music. The two came to the event from Orange.

Devyn pointed with her tiny finger and said "Santa."

Attending the tree lighting has been a tradition for Mike and Sonya Kelsen since their daughter, Rhema, was four years old.

Now 16, Rhema said it's an annual event she can't miss.

Even Kim Brandt, Costa Mesa's development services director, would not miss the lighting of the tree.

"I always look forward to the annual Christmas tree lighting," she said. "Nobody's tree is as nice as ours — beautiful, it's beautiful."

Santa, a North Pole resident, will be at South Coast Plaza 10 a.m. Friday for pictures with all the good boys and girls who come to visit him.

Fashion Island's tree lighting is scheduled on Friday and Saturday in the Neiman Marcus-Bloomingdale's Courtyard, Fashion Island, 401 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach.