When a crane operator hoisted the H-E-B Christmas Tree into position on Alamo Plaza Tuesday morning, it might have seemed to passers-by like the start of a familiar annual tradition, one that has taken place every year since 1984.

The gift to the city is actually a $250,000 work-in-progress involving a lot of people and coordination. This year’s tree is the 55-foot top of a majestic white fir harvested in the Shasta Mountains in Northern California.

“In its continued commitment to environmental sustainability, H-E-B cuts and transports only the top-half of the hand-selected tree each year, ensuring that the bottom-half remains planted and intact, ” said Julie Bedingfield, a company spokeswoman.

The actual tree lighting ceremony will occur at 6:20 p.m., Friday, Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving, when Santa Claus throws the switch. This year’s event is pet-friendly and will include donations to local animal rescue organizations.

“The event will feature pet adoptions, cookie decorating stations, holiday crafts, storytelling, live musical entertainment, surprise donations to local animal organizations and a special visit from Santa as the tree lights for the first time at 6:20 p.m.,” Bedingfield said.

Between now and then, Mark Buchhorn of Carl Electric will string 10,000 red, green, and gold lights around the tree, an assignment he has fulfilled, he thinks, for 31 years. We wanted to talk more with Buchhorn, but he was high up in a crow’s nest Tuesday morning, attaching guy wires to the tree to anchor it in the event of wind

There aren’t any 55-foot tall white firs growing in Texas. Pat Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Christmas Trees at 459 Anton Dr. on the city’s Southside, located and purchased the tree on behalf of H-E-B.

Billy and Vera Anderson, a husband and wife team from Lake McQueeny, made the long drive to Northern California to collect the conifer. It’s the 15th year in a row for the couple to make the round-trip journey in truck pulling a flatbed trailer. They left on the 1,500-mile drive home on Nov. 9,  and arrived on Nov. 12.

The tree was taken to an H-E-B store on the Southside for a few overnights and then brought to the Alamo Plaza Tuesday morning. The Andersons arrived just before 9:30 a.m. and 30 minutes later the tree was standing in place. Buchhorn quickly went to work, attaching a series of guy wires that were then affixed to the stone pavers. Designers with Illusions will help Buchhorn with the decorations.

Decoration themes have varied over the years: the Spurs, the Tobin, the military, Texas universities, and public schools. This year will be a traditional theme.
The H-E-B Christmas Tree and Lighting itself is a tradition worth preserving, especially for families with young children. With the coming redevelopment of the Alamo Plaza, a project that will take years, it would be wise of city planners to think creatively in finding ways to keep the tradition alive without interruption. There’s bound to be enough room for a Christmas tree each holiday season, even if it isn’t always in the same place.

For those who want to celebrate the tradition this year before work starts in the Alamo Plaza, mark your calendars for Nov. 25.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.