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Dozens of doe-eyed children craned their necks to gaze up at the unlit 30-foot tree, each hoping to be the one to flick the switch this year.

And when they were all chosen to collectively light the largest Christmas tree in Howard Beach, it might as well have already been December 25 for Mario Faulisi, president of the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation Inc.

“Just to see their smiles waiting to light the tree, it’s like having a kid open a toy on Christmas,” said Faulisi, who has sponsored the tree lighting at St. Helen’s for the last five years. “It’s amazing, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Howard Beach residents gathered outside of St. Helen’s School on Saturday, December 3 to watch the neighborhood’s traditional Christmas tree burn bright for the first time this holiday season.

For Howard Beach resident Linda Vitti, the tree lighting meant escaping the world for a while with her granddaughter.

“I live here, but I’ve never been here before,” she said. “It’s really nice. It’s beautiful, and it makes me feel happy and forget about what’s going on in the world.”

For others, the tree lighting marked the start of a joyous holiday season.

“It’s a good beginning for a good Advent. It’s good preparation for Christmas,” said Monsignor Joseph Pfeiffer of St. Helen’s Parish, who stood staring at the ornamented tree — adorned with hundreds of multicolored lights — even after the crowd had all gone home. “This tree is beautiful. They really did a great job,” he said.

The tree – located at 83-09 157th Avenue – will be on display throughout the holiday season into the New Year. It took three men, two days and one bucket truck — though no partridge in a pear tree — to dress up.

“It means a lot for the community and the kids,” said tree decorator John Plunkett. “It’s just an awesome feeling. I look forward to this every year,” he said.

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