Hundreds of people filled Loockerman Plaza to see the official Christmas tree lighting, to hear caroling and to see Santa Claus ride up in style on the Dover Fire Department's ladder truck Wednesday night for the "Capital Holiday Celebration."

on the Dover Fire Department's ladder truck on a chilly Wednesday night

About 700 people gathered from all over Kent County in downtown Dover to ring in the start of the holiday season with caroling, the official city Christmas tree lighting and Santa Claus' arrival for the "Capital Holiday Celebration" Wednesday night.

The free hot chocolate provided the Kiwanis Club of Dover helped to keep things festive as did the valiant attempt by Dover, Kent County and state politicians to stay on key as they sang traditional Christmas carols.

The Rev. Norman Hutchins, a Dove Award-winning Gospel singer, opened the night's program in professional style with an interpretation of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

"It's cold," Hutchins said, holding his guitar. "I left Los Angeles where it was 80 degrees. But there's no place like home."

Dover City Council President Thomas Leary, accompanied by local students, then led the Christmas tree lighting in lieu of Mayor Carleton Carey Sr., who had to leave town for important business.

Leary and Councilman Sean Lynn, Councilman William Hare and City Manager Scott Koenig sang "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" as part of their duty for the night.

Kent County Levy Court Commissioners P. Brooks Banta, Allan Angel, Glen Howell and Jody Sweeney, State Sen. Brian Bushweller (D-Dover) and State Rep. Darryl Scott (D-Dover) and Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce members were also among those who gave their level best to interpret Christmas carols.

But they could not quite match up to the talent put on display by the Dover High School Select Ensemble and the Holy Cross School Crusader Choir. Dover High sang "What Child Is This" and Holy Cross sang "Go Tell it on the Mountain," among other classics.

Matthew and Jill Zink, of Frederica, came to the Capital Holiday Celebration to see their daughter, Madeleine, a seventh grader at Holy Cross, perform. With them were their youngest children, Elizabeth and Adam.

"I thought they did a wonderful job," Matthew Zink said. "We've seen the lights coming through Dover before but this is the first time we've seen them turned on."

Madeleine Zink said Holy Cross' choir director, Jane Grudzina, made sure all of the students were prepared for this holiday celebration.

"We worked hard because we were representing our school," she said.

As for the Dover High Select Ensemble, senior Anisa Adkins and her brother, Christian, a sophomore, were among those who represented the Senators.

"We do this every year," Anisa Adkins said. "It never gets old. It's so much fun to see the kids when Santa comes."

With a police escort, Santa arrived on the Dover Fire Department's ladder truck, causing children and parents running up toward the stage to get a closer look at Kris Kringle.

Among the crowd members enjoying the whole show were Ashley Pruitt and Ramon Velasquez, of Dover, with their fraternal twins, Ramon and Leah Velasquez. They too had made their first trip to Dover the for holiday celebration kick off.

"This is good for the community to come out and celebrate Christmas," Pruitt said.

"I'm from Philadelphia and there really wasn't anything community oriented like this," Velasquez said. "This is nice."

Some of those in the crowd knew what they were doing when it came to singing along with the Christmas carols, including Wesley College student Kia Smith, of Hampton, Va. She was walking home from the Short Center after a late practice for what would be Wesley's first opera.

"I decided to stop here and watch the Christmas lights go on and maybe sing along with the carolers for a little bit," Smith said.

Joining her, hot chocolate in hand, were Wesley College students Valerie Shorter, of Wilmington, and Brandon Reynolds, of Baltimore.

"One of my friends at Wesley told me I should go to the tree lighting," Shorter said. "I was like, there's a tree lighting? I've never been to one so I was curious about what was going on."

In fact, the Capital Holiday Celebration has 29 years of history to it. This was the first year that organizers of what were formerly "Caroling on the Greens" and the "Festival of Lights" decided to combine their efforts into one.

The Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Dover Partnership, the city of Dover and the Delaware State News sponsored the newly combined Capital Holiday Celebration.

People by and large thought that it was a good idea to consolidate the two events into one, including Melissa Long, of Camden, who came with her family to the event.

"It's nice that Dover is still doing this and not cutting back," she said.

With Long were her children, Derrick DiNuova, 14; Tiffany Long, 9 and Lucas Long, 4; Long's parents, Valerie and Russell Riggins, and Long's brother, John Riggins, 14.

The children got their photo taken with Santa Claus as made his way down West Loockerman Street to the Winter Wonderland workshop at Loockerman Way Plaza.

"It was cool," Tiffany Long said. "He asked us what we wanted for Christmas."

All in all, the celebration was a success, said Jonathan Thompson, of Dover. His favorite part was the live manger scene, complte with real animals.

"I love it," he said. "I come every year because I live just a few blocks from here."