An American Tobacco Holiday

Families attend lighting of the trees, Lucky Strike tower
Dec. 06, 2013 @ 09:43 PM

As an audience countdown struck “one,” the Lucky Strike tower at the American Tobacco Campus Friday lit up with rows of multicolored bulbs. Families gasped, craning their necks, as fake snow flurries swirled around them.

The holidays were ushered in, Durham-style, with not only the lighting of the tower, but the kick-off to the fourth annual Triangle Christmas Tree Challenge, where 57 nonprofit organizations decorated trees in a competition for cash prizes. The trees are lined up outside of the Durham Performing Arts Center, and voting runs through Dec. 20.

There was the North Carolina Housing Coalition tree, which was aglow with blue lights and little house ornaments. Carolina Donor Services had smiling organs, happy hearts and intestines, hanging from its tree. The Wake County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had tennis balls and photographs of cats and dogs adorning its branches.

Wool E. Bull, the Durham Bulls baseball team’s mascot, walked around with a clipboard, examining each tree while wearing a blue light-up Santa suit.

Back on the tobacco campus, Northern High School’s chorus and the 100 Men in Black choir sang holiday songs. The Grinch, from Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” even made a surprise appearance, shrouding the tower in a shade of green.

Jolene Schira works at the Nature Conservancy, which has an office in American Tobacco Campus. This is the first tower lighting she and her children have attended.

Ozzy and Mena, 4-year-old twins, swung red and green lights around their heads. Ozzy said his favorite part about Christmas is the presents - they have Legos and Barbies on their lists this year. Schira said she’s originally from Wisconsin, and she hopes for snow and a North Carolina white Christmas.

“Every day we talk about what Santa is going to bring,” she said.

“He looks like Santa,” Ozzy added, pointing to an older man with a long white beard standing nearby.

Eighteen-month-old Cas Wegerzyn stared up at a Rudolph mascot, staying a few feet away from the giant reindeer, cautious.

His mother, Heather, said she and her friend recently made Advent calendars, and they put the tower lighting event in one of the little windows. Now that she has a son, she said, they’re starting new Christmas traditions.

“Seeing it through his eyes is really kind of renewing that Christmas spirit,” Wegerzyn said.

While the Krellwitz family watched the choirs, they danced around. Four-year-old Maya shimmied and waved a Santa hat while sitting on her father’s shoulders.

Her father, Paul, was wearing a red vest with knit snowmen down the front. His son, 9-year-old Caleb, didn’t think his father’s fashion choice was a good one.

This was their first time at American Tobacco Campus to kick off Christmas, and Caleb chimed in when asked about their favorite holiday traditions.

“One of them is just being together with your family,” he said.

To cast your vote in the Triangle Christmas Tree Challenge, visit