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Girl Scouts sing Christmas tunes during the annual tree-lighting ceremony Thursday night on Yongsan Garrison, South Korea.
Girl Scouts sing Christmas tunes during the annual tree-lighting ceremony Thursday night on Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. (T.D. Flack / S&S)

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Base residents braved the chilly night air Thursday to witness the Area II Christmas tree-lighting and “Winter Wonderland” decorations ceremony outside the Yongsan Fire Department.

Young and old alike were bundled tight as temperatures dropped into the low 30s and Area II Commander Col. Ronald Stephens pulled the switch to light thousands of holiday decorations along 8th Army Boulevard.

Local choirs and Scouts entertained the crowds with traditional holiday music in both English and Korean.

Stephens thanked the people who worked long hours to make the event happen.

“Special thanks to the directorate of public works, Korean Service Corps and MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) personnel who spent long hours to build this spectacle of lights,” he said.

To those away from home for the first time, Stephens said, “it would be our pleasure to be your family this holiday season.”

“It is … a time to remember those defending freedom and in harm’s way elsewhere in the world,” he said. “Please, I ask that you keep them in your prayers.”

Mario Farrulla, Area II Community Activity Centers director, called the turnout “really outstanding. We have more people this year than last year.”

Yongsan Garrison, home to Area II, U.S. Forces Korea, the Combined Forces Command and the United Nations Command, should be a spot to visit for the holiday, Farrulla said. “I would like to encourage everyone across the peninsula to come out and enjoy the decorations,” he said.

The decorations are to turned on from 5 to 10 p.m. daily.

Toward the end of the ceremony, Santa Claus and his elves arrived aboard a fire engine, sending a roar through the crowd. Younger children jostled to get closer to Saint Nick, who slowly moved toward the warmth of the fire station truck bay.

Col. Cam Torrens of USFK was on hand with his wife, Linda, and children Natasha, 9, Jake, 7, Max, 5, and Elizabeth, 2.

With Elizabeth wrapped in a pink winter jacket, Torrens stood at the back of the crowd, checking out the action. “She likes Santa from a distance but doesn’t want to be up close,” he said.

He said the event was great for his family, who recently moved to join him in South Korea.

“It’s nice for them to see that Christmas is a holiday that is celebrated across the world,” he said.

Inside the fire house, members of the 8th Army band played Christmas tunes, families lined up for a chance of a photo with Santa and MWR personnel handed out free food and hot chocolate.

And 4-year-old Ashley Clifton waited in line with her family for an opportunity to tell Santa exactly what she wants for Christmas this year: a Barbie doll.

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