Magic Tree lights up Columbia for 17th year

The tree moved to its current location last year.
Patrick Fulkerson stares at the Magic Tree on Sunday in between attempts to reach for bulbs. The Magic Tree now sits at 2011 Corona Road, where residents and students come out to witness it. 

On most nights after sundown, the small streets leading into and through the Village of Cherry Hill shopping center in west Columbia appear quiet and dark. Most businesses here are closed for the night, and fast-moving traffic zooms by on the outer streets of Scott Boulevard and Chapel Hill Road.

But a small number of those cars turn down Corona Road into the darkened shopping center. Their passengers walk up to a grassy area where a cherry tree sits, covered in thousands of glowing Christmas lights in a rainbow of colors — red, blue, magenta, green and yellow — lighting up this quiet corner of Columbia for about 40 nights of the year.

Around the tree, adults snap pictures with digital cameras and cellphones as little children play and laugh in the glow of the lights.

This is the Magic Tree.

The tree was formally lit in a ceremony last week. On Sunday night, with temperatures near freezing, students and local residents came up to the tree to gaze at its lights in crowds of a few to a dozen people. Among them was Columbia resident Monica Fulkerson, with her husband and young son.

“My son loves Christmas lights, so we thought he’d really like to see it,” she said as her husband and son went up for a closer look at the tree’s colorful branches. “This is awesome. I love this thing.”

The Magic Tree has been lit in Columbia for the past 17 years. Fulkerson said she had been to see it once, when the tree was at its original location on a residential street in south Columbia.

Columbia resident Randy Fletcher, who has been lighting the tree every year since 1995, said he began the tradition by stringing lights on a crabapple tree in front of his house. Each year he would try to top the last year’s creation, drawing bigger and bigger crowds from around the city. Eventually, the number of people coming to see the tree overwhelmed his neighbors on tiny West Hickam Drive, so he moved the tree to the shopping center.

Fletcher, whose middle name is Will, is also known this time of year as Will Treelighter. He said stringing lights on this year’s tree took about 40 hours — about half the time it took him to light up the more difficult crabapple tree in his yard.

He said the time he spends lighting the tree gives him a chance to think about its deeper purposes. He said he wants the tree to be a sensible act of beauty, to help people express their own inner beauty and to help people see that what is going on inside of them will be reflected outside of them.

“It gives people a sense of peace and also excitement, which to me adds up to joy,” he said.

Junior Kara Azotea and freshman Allie Humes echoed Fletcher’s sentiment as they took pictures with their friends at the tree Sunday night. Azotea said a friend had told her about the tree and the group decided to go out in spite of the cold.

“We just thought it would be a good tradition because it’s so beautiful,” Humes said.

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