Several dozen people gathered inside the Smith-Hazel Recreation Center's lobby to kick off their holiday season with the warmth of candles, hot cocoa and togetherness.


Smith-Hazel held its annual tree lighting on Tuesday evening, which is a tradition that has been going on for at least two decades, according to Betty Gyles who retired after working at the recreation center for 29 years.


“It's good to see it continue,” Gyles said. “The main thing is seeing the little children and the older folks here.”


Residents of all ages enjoyed the community event by singing carols, snacking on cookies and winning small door prizes through a raffle.


Ethel Pope led the group in the carols, and her job was to decorate the tree before the ceremony.


She smiled underneath her Santa hat as she belted out “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” while children enthusiastically followed her lead.


“I've been involved for many years, and I truly enjoy it,” she said.


Pope worked at Smith-Hazel in the 1970s and said she's watched the facility change as more activities have been added. With holidays being a time to be thankful, Smith-Hazel is something Pope appreciates as she's watched many children and seniors benefit from using the recreation center.


The tree lighting ceremony had many children thinking of Santa. When Anthony Perry was asked what he wanted for Christmas, his answer was simple.


“A dinosaur,” he said, preferably a T-Rex.


Kya Carter, 11, had never been to the tree lighting before but said she had a lot of fun and was excited for winning a lollipop at a raffle.


City of Aiken Recreation Coordinator Adea Jackson, who helped organize the event, said she had fun and she felt that everyone who attended did, too.


“It was very successful,” Jackson said. “I enjoyed the community coming out and getting involved – of all ages.”