Florida Keys Electric Cooperative workers place the middle segment of the Christmas tree onto the base outside the Murray Nelson Government Center in Key Largo on Nov. 22. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

A holiday season unlike any other returns to the island chain. On the road, vehicles and trailers filed into the Keys from the 18-mile stretch for Thanksgiving. At local parks, holiday festivals and parades will return next month as the community decorates floats and boats, all while enjoying time with friends and family. 

With all the celebration and commotion this season come the moments that show what being a member of the Keys community is all about. Outside the Murray Nelson Government Center in Key Largo on Nov. 22, Florida Keys Electric Co-op workers brought their bucket trucks and tools to piece together segments of a Christmas tree that, with the star, stands 45 feet tall. It’s the centerpiece and main event of the annual Light Up Key Largo. 

Florida Keys Electric Cooperative crews take some time out of the day to piece the Christmas tree together outside the Murray Nelson Government Center in Key Largo. CONTRIBUTED

Watching the tree’s configuration were Nola Acker, member of the Key Largo Preservation Foundation; and Elizabeth Moscynski, Key Largo Chamber of Commerce president. But just days before the co-op arrived to place the tree together, the two were in desperate need of volunteers to unpack a truck full of pieces, bristle branches and configure tree segments for the co-op to complete the tree. At the time, all but a few volunteers were going to help in what would be a full day of work. 

Thanks to a social media post by Acker acknowledging dire need for helpers, however, a little more than 40 people from the community showed up on the morning of Nov. 20 at 9 a.m. Some brought their muscles and might. Others brought tools and a touch of holiday spirit. The Facebook post by Acker generated more than 60 shares and 60 comments, and it brought volunteers young and old. With an army of workers, the tree segments were complete by 2 p.m. 

Volunteers unpack and prepare the Christmas tree brushes for placement onto the frame. CONTRIBUTED

“I couldn’t believe the number of people who showed up,” Acker said. “And a lot of the people I didn’t know. This community came out in droves to bring our community tree to life. Before my post we had all but five volunteers. We ended up with more than 40 folks to help bring the magic of Christmas to our community kids.”

As Acker watched the co-op bring the tree to life, Moscynski came over to express her gratitude.

“We really couldn’t do this without you,” she said. 

Volunteers from the community put together the Christmas tree frame on Nov. 20. CONTRIBUTED

Sponsored by the Key Largo Community Preservation Foundation, the annual Light Up Key Largo brings holiday joy to the community through a number of activities, and it’s highlighted by the lighting of the tree. Set for Saturday, Dec. 4 from 4:30 to 9 p.m., children have the chance to go ice skating, meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, decorate crafts, get a little story time and enjoy treats. 

For more information, visit Light Up Key Largo’s Facebook page. 

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Jim McCarthy is a Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family (he's expecting a little boy in October).