One of Aiken's most prominent Christmas traditions came back to life — or light — again over the weekend, with the help of hundreds of boosters at Millbrook Baptist Church.
The Living Christmas Trees program, involving a mixture of vocal and orchestral music in a clear presentation of the Bible's Christmas story, included two presentations on Saturday and one on Sunday.
The massive shows began in 1978, ran annually through 2011 and went dormant from 2012 until this year, when the mix grew to include live animals (for the Bethlehem-related scenes) from Eudora Farms, in Salley — some of the same creatures that will are on duty Wednesday through Saturday (Dec. 5-8) in North Augusta, for Grace United Methodist Church's "Return to Bethlehem" presentation.
The Rev. Bill Howard, Millbrook's worship pastor, was among those helping put the Living Christmas Trees' pieces into place. "We had to do some refurbishing of the trees. We had some physical issues with them, we had some lighting issues with them, and we had to make those repairs, get the money together to do that, and we've been able to do that and put all-new LED lighting on them," he said.
"You can see the difference," he said, estimating the opening performance's attendance at about 1,500. "I was more than pleased."
Among those in the pews for Saturday's matinee was S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, who described himself as "thrilled" with the event's return and noted that he and his wife were narrators of one of the last Living Christmas Trees presentations, in 2010. He noted, "I understand the creative reasons to be new, but it's wonderful to return to what's old and familiar and traditional."
He added, "I thought it was the finest performance that we have seen in many years at Millbrook, and our two grandchildren — ages 2 and 5 — were enthralled with the music and the performance."
Major elements in the 90-minute presentation included a 150-voice choir (comprising the "trees") and a 40-piece orchestra, both helping lay down a soundtrack for such components as "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" (performed by Carolina Dance Studio students) and "Gloria" (sung by Kenny Cook).