Hayden When Russ Jones and his wife, Dolores, bought their house at Fourth Street and Jefferson Avenue in Hayden two years ago, they were unaware that the nearly 80-year-old blue spruce towering next to U.S. Highway 40 had a proud history as the town's Christmas tree.
"We inherited the tree - didn't really know about it when we bought the house," Russ Jones said. "But we're very happy to be part of the tradition."
Jones lit up Hayden's Christmas tree Saturday night to the sound of hoots, hollers and whistles from the crowd of about 75 that gathered in his yard. Since last year, the tree had grown about 2 feet and needed 100 extra lights added to the top, he said.
"I'm really blessed for all of you to be able to join me in celebrating the holiday," Jones said to the assembled crowd.
Everyone stood with candlelight flickering in their faces from white tapers held in translucent green and red cups in one hand, cups of steaming coffee and hot chocolate in the other. Some of the youngsters opted to snack on handfuls of snow gathered out of the Jones' yard with their wet mittens.
Hayden's Christmas tree tradition began in about 1980, when the late Dave Spencer, who lived in the Jones' house at the time, began decorating the tree, longtime Hayden resident Chuck Grobe said.
"The community pitched in and helped pay for electric bill," Grobe said. "He put coin jars around town."
About 10 years ago, as Spencer got older, he approached the town about taking over the tree once and for all. But that did not mean he gave up his artistic vision for the tree.
"He sat out here in the middle of the street in his lawn chair and made sure we put the lights on right," Grobe said.
Hayden residents are not the only ones who get to enjoy the tree during the holiday season - it has its own purpose for pilots flying into Yampa Valley Regional Airport.
"The planes that come in use it as a beacon to line up with the runway," Jones said.
Santa Claus also was there Saturday night, but not everyone in Hayden was happy to see him. Jo Webster's son, Rowan, burst into tears as soon as he was placed in Santa's lap.
"He's too young to know what's going on," his mom said, as Rowan toddled away across the lawn, arms outstretched in his parka, face barely visible underneath his hood and scarf.
"He looks like the kid from 'A Christmas Story,'" she said, referencing the younger brother from the classic holiday film, whose mother bundles him up so much he famously can't put his arms down.