When the Carson City Fifth-Grade Singing Ensemble gathered on the steps of the capitol to sing Thursday evening, they looked out across a sea of faces crowded between the building and Carson Street.
"From what I could tell it was a record turnout," said Carson City Mayor Ray Masayko, who addressed the crowd after the trees were lit. Ideal weather may have contributed to the attendance.
"We have to consider ourselves fortunate that we're not on the East Coast," laughed Masayko, referring to a huge storm there. "Otherwise we'd have to shovel this area off before we could hold our event."
Sgt. Brad Valladon of the Capitol Police estimated the turnout on the grounds to be about 1,000.
The singing ensemble was joined for the first time this year by the Carson Middle School Red Hot Bell Peppers handbell group, coordinated by Nancy Mielke. With the singers signing -- as well as singing -- "Silent Night, Holy Night," the handbell players filled the grounds with ringing echoes.
"It was just superb," said event coordinator Maxine Nietz, who acted as emcee. "This is the first year we've had the hand bells and they were just so excellent."
Hot chocolate was provided by the Carson Advocates for Cancer Care near the wrought-iron fence along Carson Street. Sheriff's deputies on horseback stopped traffic for crossing pedestrians.
When Santa arrived in the 1926 Model T pickup, who was at the helm but young Bo, a golden lab puppy learning the skills of Bill Williamson's car-driving dogs.
After Bo parked and turned off the engine, which smelled like a lawn mower, he enjoyed the throngs of children lining up to pet him while Santa distributed candy canes from the bed of the pickup.
Secretary of State Dean Heller, who addressed the crowd and led the lighting of the Capitol tree with the help of his family, was at the ceremony for his third time.
"It's kind of the traditional beginning of the holiday season for our family," he said.
He couldn't stay long because he was off to Reno to watch his mother sing with the Sierra Nevada Master Chorale, but he'll be back next year.
"They've already asked me and I said yes."
Jud Price, who handles the sound equipment for the Brewery Arts Center, provided the same service Thursday night at the capitol.
"I think the kids were really well poised," he said of the performers.
After a countdown by the entire crowd, it was Heller's 7-year-old daughter, Emily, who flipped the switch that lit the trees, the Legislature grounds, Capitol grounds and all of Carson Street.
"Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, thank you Carson City," hollered Heller as the singers broke into "Oh, Christmas Tree."
Afterward, the crowd spread into the downtown district for open houses and cider at businesses. In addition, the mayor led the lighting of the city tree at Musser and Nevada streets before a performance by the Home School Singers.