San Francisco: Tree lighting memories

0 Flares 0 Flares ×


An email arrived in my inbox this week about the 50th Anniversary of the Tree Lighting ceremony at Ghirardelli Square.

I immediately wanted to drop every, and fly to San Francisco to take part. You see, that’s the tree lightening I remember as a child.

In the US, Christmas doesn’t officially start until the day after Thanksgiving (which is the 4th Thursday in November). We’d get up early on Friday and my parents, four siblings and I would make the journey from San Jose to “the city”.

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 08.44.59

An 8-year-old me!

We’d drive to Fremont, catch a BART train and go straight to the Powell Street station to do some shopping in Union Square. Even as an 8 year old, I remember feeling the buzz of the city, the acid smell of public transport and the gorgeous shop windows, all decorated with snowflakes and baubles for Christmas.

I was sure the sparkly sidewalks in Union Square had diamonds in them! We’d go to Macys, Neiman Marcus (which my sister and I nicknamed “Needless Markup”) and FAO Schwartz to dream about toys. We’d eventually end up a few streets away on Grant Street in China Town for lunch.

Then, and as the afternoon faded, we’d head over to Ghirardelli Square for the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony.  To me this meant chocolate! In the late 1800s the site was a chocolate factory. When the factory moved inland, the site was converted into shop and restaurants, and each year they light a huge Nordic pine for Christmas.

We’d eat at Pedros (which has been replaced by McCormick and Kulletos), where the Shirley Temples came with a large colourful parrot on a stick. Pure magic for an 8-year-old.

After diner, my dad would prop me on his shoulders so I had a great view of the tree in the centre of the square.  3 … 2 … 1 … and everything was bright and sparkly and happy with the prospect of Christmas. 


Ghirardelli Square, 900 North Point Street, #E100, San Francisco, CA 94109, United States Originally purchased to headquarter the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, the brick spaces were converted to retail and restaurant complex in 1964. Now part of the National Historic Register, it’s an area not to miss. Each year there’s a Tree Lighting Ceremony, with activities for the entire family.

McCormick & Kuleto’s Seafood Restaurant Ghirardelli Square, 900 North Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109, United States Excellent seafood coupled with panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Looking for a memorable meal? This is it.

Macy’s Untion Square 170 O’Farrell Street San Francisco, CA, United States +1 415-397-3333 Iconic store, with great shopping and fantastically festive windows.


Do you bring your children to tree lightings? What are your memories?

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 0 Flares ×


  1. 28/11/2014 / 14:56

    I’ve never been to a Christmas light ceremony and avoided the recent Bluewater one because of the crowds that go but one thing I do every year is pile the twins in the car at dusk and drive out to the local villages where the houses are insanely lit up, it’s amazing the trouble some people go to. I’ll take photos this year 😉

    • 29/11/2014 / 06:30

      Some houses in our town get really into it too, can’t wait to see who does up their homes this year! All we do is put out a wreath and a candles.

  2. Mammasaurus
    24/11/2014 / 23:36

    I too have never been to a tree lighting but feel like I am missing out now!

    • 29/11/2014 / 06:30

      It’s a nice way to kick off the festive season. x

  3. 24/11/2014 / 21:16

    As soon as I saw that your post was called Tree Lighting Ceremony, I thought of Ghiradelli Square. Brings back such wonderful memories. About seven years ago I went to SF with my husband and took him to Ghiradelli Sq. He had some chocolate and made some comment about cadbury being better. I may have thrown something at him. 😉

    • 29/11/2014 / 06:31

      Yes, that old Cadbury is better thing. Must be cultural.

  4. 24/11/2014 / 20:04

    Oh I felt like I was there, sipping a Shirley Temple! Such a cute photo of you.

    • 29/11/2014 / 06:34

      I still remember that Shirley Temple. The ultimate. x

  5. 24/11/2014 / 19:57

    I immediately want to go! How gorgeous is 8 year old you (you still are) but you are just too cute! Lovely post x

    • 29/11/2014 / 06:46

      Thanks Vicki. x

  6. Cass@FrugalFamily
    24/11/2014 / 19:04

    Aaaaaaw. Eight year old you is really sweet x x

    • 29/11/2014 / 06:46

      Thanks Cass, twas so long ago…

  7. 24/11/2014 / 18:51

    Beautiful memories. I really hope that one day I will be visiting US too

    • 29/11/2014 / 06:47

      You’d love it, especially California.

  8. 24/11/2014 / 18:18

    Sounds like a wonderful day out! I can remember going to Trafalgar Square with my mum when I was little and then going home with dad from the office and having fish & chips in the back of the car – from the best chippie ever on the Mile End Road – I doubt it is still there!

    • 29/11/2014 / 06:47

      Love those memories. Priceless.

  9. 24/11/2014 / 13:24

    What wonderful memories! I’ve never been to a tree lighting ceremony but our local town has a Christmas fair at the start of December. The high street is closed for this, the shops stay open late and there are Christmas market stalls on the pavement. That always feels like the beginning of the Christmas season for me.

    • 29/11/2014 / 06:48

      We have that in our town too, it’s quite a tradition here.

  10. 23/11/2014 / 22:38

    Oh Susanna! I bet you wouldof gone given half the chance.We didn’t go last year but I am taking them this year as we live closer to town.It’s one of those things that mark’s the countdown to Christmas.

    • 29/11/2014 / 06:52

      I REALLY wanted to go, I have such good memories. Next time. x

  11. 23/11/2014 / 19:52

    Awww, what a lovely memory. I love San Francisco and have such happy memories of our holiday there, many years ago.

    • 29/11/2014 / 06:53

      I have to say San Francisco and London are my two favourite cities.

  12. 23/11/2014 / 13:16

    Such wonderful memories from your childhood, sounds like a wonderful family treat every year. Our local Christmas lights get switched on next week and weather pending we will be there making memories.

    • 29/11/2014 / 06:53


  13. 23/11/2014 / 10:32

    We have our advent fayre and lights switch on next weekend. Our little town does a “torchlit procession” through the streets to the huge Christmas tree, which is then lit up. I’m so looking forward to it.
    San Francisco is on my list of places I really want to visit. Sounds magical to go there around Christmas time.

    • 29/11/2014 / 06:55

      Your torchlight procession sounds wonderful! How special. And yes, you must make it out to San Francisco!

  14. bavariansojourn
    23/11/2014 / 09:56

    The Christmas markets here are all beginning to open. I love your memories here, and I also happen to love that chocolate! Funny to think that we could have those memories too, we were supposed to be moving to San Fran before we got the job here! 🙂

    • 29/11/2014 / 06:56

      I’d love to visit the German Christmas markets, they sounds so warm and inviting (maybe it’s the mulled wine). If work does ever take you out to SF, you’d love it there.

  15. 23/11/2014 / 08:46

    Fantastic memories. We’ll be taking the kids to our local event this Thursday but it’s not exactly on the scale of San Francisco. And, sob, my eldest wants to go round with her friends, not parents, afterwards. At least we’ll still have the youngest to eat mince pies and look round the stalls with.