By Britney Barnes
9:12 PM PST, November 15, 2012
The rest of the country might be gearing up for Thanksgiving, but at South Coast Plaza, Christmas officially began Thursday evening.
The shopping destination hosted its 31st annual tree lighting ceremony at Town Plaza Center with traditional carolers, tap-dancing reindeer, and Santa and Mrs. Claus' arrival from the North Pole leading up the main event — lighting up a 96-foot tall tree.
"From our family to yours, we wish you the very best the holidays have to offer, and we thank you for coming to celebrate with us today," said Stan Taeger, speaking on behalf of the Segerstrom family and South Coast Plaza.
The tree, a white fir — which traveled more than 650 miles from Mt. Shasta to Costa Mesa — stood in a bed of poinsettias and was decorated with more than 20,000 multicolored lights, which were turned on as snow descended softly on the crowd.
"Today we light the traditional Christmas tree as a reminder of all that is good in the world," Santa said.
Thousands of families came out to celebrate the beginning of the holiday season, bundling up against the chilly, starless night and taking family photos in front of the tree. There were holiday cookies, hot cider and red-and-white Santa hats for everyone.
Orange Country High School of the Performing Arts students performed carols dressed in traditional costumes straight out of Charles Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol." Students also put on a montage of upbeat Christmas songs featuring gingerbread girls, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman and Ol' Saint Nick himself.
"The show was really nice — the music and all the dancing was great," said Santa Ana resident Anahi Angel, who took her daughter Denise Sanchez, 4, for the first time.
Newport Beach resident Gina Smith wasn't planning on coming out, but her 5-year-old son, C.J., heard about it from friends at school and insisted, she said.
"I was excited," C.J. said, wearing a Santa hat.
The Smith family didn't know before coming that Santa Claus was going to make an appearance, but C.J. and his 3-year-old sister, Zoey, were prepared.
"I'm going to ask him for a dollhouse," Zoey said.