Despite weather, tree lighting tradition continues
Stephen Zangrillo would have been proud.
His Christmas tree lighting tradition of 41 years at the Darien Sport Shop is still going strong.
Despite the pouring rain and freezing temperatures, several hundred people came out to the annual event Sunday, to the parking lot of the shop that he opened on the Post Road.
The free event, which drew people of all ages, included a performance from the Darien High School Tudor Singers, and an appearance by Santa Claus on a fire truck.
There was also a group of Darien Depot and Darien High School volunteers helping out.
Everyone who attended got to enjoy pumpkin soup, hot cocoa and hot cider, and small bags of cookies.
The event was held in partnership with the Darien Sport Shop and Darien Parks and Recreation.
“It was pretty amazing to see so many families still come out for this Darien tradition,” said Jami Gore, recreation program supervisor for the town of Darien.
Gore added that there were even treat bags for dogs.
“My father started this tradition,” said Darien native Gina Zangrillo, who is the current owner and president of the shop.
Stephen Zangrillo, 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,” Zangrillo said. “He had to buy enough land to support the parking for that size of a structure.”
Stephen bought the property that the tree is 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.
“We then planted a new tree that was about 30 feet tall, Zangrillo said, adding that the tree came from a tree farm in upstate New York. “We had a big celebration with Santa that September.”
The new tree, also a Norway spruce, is now about 40 feet tall, according to Zangrillo.
Up until the year he died, her father attended the tree lighting.
The tree lighting is still a “fabulous townwide tradition in the middle of this wonderful town,” she said. “It’s the same beautiful, simple tradition each year.”
Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, who attended the lighting, said the evening was “magical” in spite of the weather.
“Santa, as you know, is accustomed to traveling the globe in all sorts of weather, so tonight was no problem for ‘ol’ Saint Nick,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see the joy on the faces of the children who come to see him.”
“Kudos to the Darien Sport Shop, Darien Parks and Rec, the DHS Tudor Singers, Darien Boy Scouts and the generous vendors who conspired to make the evening a big success. The delicious soup, hot cider, and other goodies were a real treat,” Stevenson added.
Zangrillo said her father would have been very happy to know his tradition continues each year.
“He was a wonderful merchant who just adored his store and loved his customers and it was his life, so it’s a special day for all of us because we know he’s with us,” she said.
Santa will also visit downtown Darien next Saturday for ‘Holiday Magic,’ a holiday event hosted by the Darien Toy Box and Darien Chamber of Commerce, PG Properties and The Melting Pot. The event begins at 4:00 p.m.