Drawing huge crowds to Central Park on Saturday evening, members of the Palm Coast City Council, Rotary Club of Flagler County President Jay Gardener and Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly flipped the switch, lighting the community’s Christmas tree and officially kicking off the holiday season.

Standing in for Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin, Vice Mayor Ed Branquinho welcomed residents and visitors to the annual event as one of his last official duties before retiring from office soon, and it was a heartfelt moment as he surveyed the excited crowd waiting for the arrival of Santa.

Rotary Club of Flagler County volunteers welcome attendees.

“I think it’s been a beautiful ceremony and we have the kids, which is the most important thing,” he said.

Branquinho’s service as a member of the Palm Coast City Council deepened his love for the community and capping off his term with such a special event was particularly meaningful.

“It’s so gratifying when you do to the people of Palm Coast what you wish to be done to you. I love what I did. I grew to love the elected officials, people who come with the same idea, which is to do the best for the people of Palm Coast,” he shared.

Enjoying Sweet Shelia’s Funnel Cakes.

“I think proud does not describe enough. If there’s such a thing as being more than proud, I’m proud squared. Kids deserve it. The people of Palm Coast are phenomenal people. I’m so happy I moved here.”

The lighting of the city’s Christmas tree coincides with the first night of the Rotary Club of Flagler County’s Fantasy Lights display and the Taste of Holidays event.

Club President-Elect Charles Barbel organizes the tasting event featuring a variety of restaurants, food trucks and food vendors offering families a chance to relax and enjoy the festivities without trying to squeeze in dinner before the activities.

Making the magic happen. Kim Brown and Jared Dawson.

Available for purchase, the “Passport to Dine” was created this year offering a variety of discounts and deals to Fantasy Lights attendees, with proceeds supporting the Rotary Club’s mission and youth scholarships in the area.

“We’re looking forward to a fabulous night with the food trucks and vendors out here,” he said.

Jerusha Logan, The Wandering Hoagie’s TK and Danielle Anderson.

“This is the second year we’ve had the food trucks for Taste of Holidays and it has been a huge hit. They enjoy it. We also try to focus on local restaurants and with this passport you can get some wonderful appetizers, drinks and desserts, as well.”

Shannon Byrd picks up dinner.

Shannon Byrd said she enjoys the community-based holiday events and is looking forward to the upcoming Starlight Parade December 10th. She picked up a made to order quesadilla before heading to the tree lighting ceremony.

“I usually come for the tree lighting but I’ve never seen this,” she said. “It’s easier because I can grab dinner and do the tree lighting.”

Barbara and Jose Alcaraz.

Fantasy Lights takes place nightly in Town Center through December 30, 2022. There is no cost to stroll the lake in Central Park to view the animated displays or visit Santa’s Village where village houses entertain the youngest of Palm Coast’s residents.  Holiday train rides and Santa visits on select nights.

For more information, visit www.flaglerrotary.org.

One of 2022’s newest displays.