There may be more brown than green on the Norway Spruce standing in the center of Big Spring Park, but that didn't stop the City of Neosho from continuing on with a longstanding Christmas tradition.
On Thursday evening, Christmas lights and a large crowd of area residents surrounded the 40-foot tree, as it lit up the park for its final Christmas season.
The tree was damaged by the summer drought and the city plans to remove it sometime after the holidays.
However, Troy Royer, Neosho city manager, said that doesn't mean the holiday tradition has to end.
"It's been a tradition for years, it will continue every year," Royer said.
He said the city plans to speak with Jon Skinner, a forester from the Missouri Department of Conservation, to determine the best replacement for the tree.
He even joked that the city would light up an artificial tree next year if necessary.
"There will be something," he said.
Per tradition, Jeff and Debbie Werneke, the Neosho Area Chamber of Commerce Citizens of the year, flipped the switch that lit up the tree and decorations across the park.
"We're honored to do it, it's kind of a shame that this tree is going to be going by the wayside but it was an honor to do it for the last time," Jeff Werneke said. "Next year somebody will get to light the new one. And of course, being citizen of the year with my wife is an honor itself, it's just icing on the cake really."
The city also added a new element to the annual Christmas tree lighting.
For the past year, the city has recognized an employee of the quarter, and on Thursday, honored one of those four as the city's employee of the year.
That title went to John Harrington, code enforcement officer, who has been with the city for nearly six years.
"John, out of the ones we picked so far, has shown the most outstanding qualities of teamwork and just going above and beyond," Royer said. "He never complains, always does everything no matter whether it's in his job description or not and does it immediately. He always has a good attitude and is just a pleasure to be around."
Royer said the city plans to turn the employee recognition into a new tradition, and include each year's honoree in the
lighting ceremony along with the citizen of the year.
"It's just a great honor to be recognized for everything that I've done and being a part of the Neosho team," Harrington said.
While the Christmas tree was the center of Thursday night's festivities, the tree lighting ceremony had much more to offer.
Page 2 of 2 - Third and fourth grade students from South Elementary School serenaded the crowd with Christmas favorites, including "Jingle Bells" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
Following the carols, the children gathered around the podium, where Richard Davidson, Neosho mayor, read "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."
Willie the Wildcat was also on hand Thursday, representing the Neosho R-5 School District. He handed out candy canes to the children in attendance, while Clifford the Big Red Dog distributed children's books from Scholastic.