Aurora celebrates Christmas: Town holds first-ever tree lighting ceremony

Published 1:16 pm Tuesday, December 21, 2021

By KAREN THIEL

For The Washington Daily News 

A lone evergreen tree at the corner of Fifth and Main streets, decorated with a single string of lights, was once the only sign of Christmas in the town of Aurora. Chuck Bonner, a town employee and assistant chief of the Aurora Volunteer Fire Department, said there hasn’t been a lit tree in town for about 50 years.  That changed on December 10th, when Bonner flipped the “on” switch at Aurora’s first Christmas tree lighting in its 140-year history. Residents say the results were as big as the dinosaurs that left their fossils all over this town, which holds bragging rights well beyond North Carolina as the location of the Aurora Fossil Museum.

“The thought kept coming up that we need a town Christmas tree, something that says ‘wow’, something that says ‘this is my town’, but it never materialized,” Bonner said last week. Not until this year, when he and several other residents “got a fire lit under some people. We got a good bunch of volunteers, and raised over $6,000 so it wouldn’t cost the town anything. We wanted it to be big.” 

Bonner, his volunteers, several town employees and a skilled crane operator transformed Aurora’s water tower with hundreds of Christmas lights. Excitement grew. So did the event, which eventually included speeches, music, a Christmas stroll, holiday food, and photos with Santa.

Bonner has spent several months rallying the folks who caught his vision. “Fifteen to twenty volunteers a day spent hours every day, for weeks, to get everything ready,” he said. Town employees also pitched in, on their own time. Bonner said that spirit is the spark behind a fire that has warmed hearts all around town. Word spread about the project. So did excitement. Organizers of the town’s longstanding trifecta – a weekend featuring their Christmas parade, craft fair, and volunteer fire department BBQ sale – agreed that each event enjoyed noticeably increased attendance. The parade lasted for several hours. BBQ plates sold out in record time. Crafters exchanged smiles, compliments, and money with enthusiastic buyers, many sharing memories of organizer Candace Holliday, whose charitable heart and leadership efforts were remembered fondly in the wake of her recent death. The weekend’s craft event was was dedicated to her memory. 

The benefits seem to be holding. “People driving by all slow down to point, look, and take photographs of our water tower. It’s a wonderful thing to see. We are finally coming into our own,” said long time resident Joy McCracken, who is a member of the Aurora Leadership Council. Bonner said town residents “have the best attitude and most optimism I have seen since I moved back here in 2000. This has turned into a wonderful ‘we can do this’ type of thing. The community is coming together and it’s a magical thing, and we are just so happy.”