Darien Sport Shop to host virtual tree lighting

DARIEN — The Darien Sport Shop’s annual tree lighting has kicked off the town’s holiday season on the Sunday after Thanksgiving for the past 42 years. Much like the rest of the traditions in 2020, this year it will look a little different due to COVID-19 precautions.

The Sport Shop will be holding its tree lighting virtually on Nov. 29 at 5 p.m. for Santa’s arrival. Residents can watch on the store’s Facebook page or Instagram page @DarienSportShop. The event is co-hosted by Darien’s Parks & Rec Department.

“Every year since 1978, our community has gathered the Sunday after Thanksgiving to kick off the holiday season under the bright lights of our famous Christmas tree,” said store owner and president Gina Zangrillo.

Zangrillo said the decision to go virtual was difficult but was made out of an abundance of caution.

“We hope you and your family will tune in to our Instagram and Facebook live feeds (@dariensportshop) to see Santa arrive on his fire truck as he traditionally does and watch him magically light our tree,” Zangrillo said.

Darien children can also write letters to Santa Claus in advance of the event so he can get back to them in time for Christmas, Zangrillo said. More information on the event and a printable version of a letter to Santa form can be found at the Darien Parks & Rec page at darienct.gov.

“While we are disappointed to not be able to gather together as we have in the past, we look forward to continuing this tradition and seeing everyone next year,” Zangrillo said.

Stephen Zangrillo began the tree lighting in 1978. Stephen, who died in 2015 at the age of 91, started the business in 1946. He was born and raised in Darien.

Since the store has been in business, it has had over 40 expansions and renovations.

“He kept expanding the size of the building. In order to do that, he had to buy the property around it,” Gina Zangrillo said at the 2019 tree lighting. “He had to buy enough land to support the parking for that size of a structure.”

Stephen bought the property that the tree sits on in 1978.

He envisioned starting the tree lighting tradition at that time, and it has grown to be a huge event, with over 1,000 people attending it most years, according to Zangrillo.

In 2010, due to damage from a storm, the 110-foot Norway spruce tree had to be taken down. A new 30-foot Norway spruce from upstate New York was planted in its place. Up until the year he died, Zangrillo’s father attended the tree lighting every year.