Hundreds of community members from around the county gathered together at ilani Casino on Wednesday for its annual tree lighting celebration.
Starting at 5 p.m., guests gathered outside ilani Casino for hot cocoa, cookies and coffee as cars from the Battle Ground Harvest Nights Cruise lined the parking lot.
As attendees gathered with their drinks in the warm tent near heaters, the Cowlitz Drum Group performed traditional songs of welcome and thanksgiving.
“ilani means ‘to sing to,’” one member of the group said. “And that’s what we’re going to do for you.”
Following the opening drum ceremony and greetings, a group of Dickens Carolers hit the stage to lead the crowd in their humorous renditions of classic Christmas tunes. Once the carolers started singing “Here Comes Santa Claus,” two special visitors arrived by Clark County Fire and Rescue escort, Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Families and kids lined up around the tent to meet and greet with their favorite holiday icon. Pictures were snapped and lists were exchanged while caroling continued.
The fun didn’t stop there as at 5:30 p.m. ilani General Manager Kara Fox-LaRose walked to center stage to greet the crowd and kick off the giving season with multiple donations to nonprofits in the area.
“One thing we focus on here at ilani is how we can give back to the community and align with some community leaders,” Fox-LaRose said after the donations were given. “One way to do that is to celebrate the giving season as we know it. There is lots of great work being done by our community through many organizations.”
Gifts donated included money to Ridgefield and La Center Lions Clubs as well as a $5,000 donation from ilani to local community project, Santa’s Posse. Put on with a collaboration of third parties and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, Santa’s Posse works to collect and distribute toys to less-fortunate community members.
“We’ve been around for 22 years. We’re providing Christmas to needy families throughout Clark County,” Sgt. Kevin Alias said. “We’re an all volunteer organization, but it takes money to purchase toys and food.”
Alias said that, while he admits he’s “somewhat of a grinch,” working with Santa’s Posse is a way for him to get into the Christmas spirit and help out community members.
“Eventually we want to get into helping people year-round,” he said.
Following the start of the giving spirit, Mayor Don Stose reached for a big lever. Following a community countdown, he pulled the lever and lit the ilani Christmas Tree for all to enjoy and take photos with. Community members then gathered around the tree as the Dickens Carolers hit the stage to close out the night.