BRISTOL, Va. — Andrew Cross, his wife, Kristi, and their 2-month-old baby smiled and posed for a photo Monday night in front of the Twin City’s just-illuminated Christmas tree.

Hundreds braved chilly temperatures and a brisk breeze Monday to attend the 39th annual tree lighting in the Cumberland Street triangle in downtown Bristol.

Andrew Cross said the brief, simple ceremony represents the start of the Christmas season.

“My parents brought us, and it’s just how you start Christmas,” he said. “I can’t imagine starting Christmas without the tree lighting. … To me, it’s the signal of the start of the season.”

Cross, of Bristol, Tennessee, said he also attended some of Bristol’s Christmas parades but was always in the crowd for the tree lighting and wanted to begin that tradition for his son, Jackson.

“Other than being sick, I can’t tell you a time I haven’t come to the tree lighting in my life,” said the 31-year-old. “I told her, ‘It’s cold, so we’ll bundle him up,’ and we waited in there [Bristol Hotel] and came out to take a picture. He will be here.”

Andrew’s brother, Aaron Cross, served as photographer, documenting the moment with his smartphone.

Members of the Virginia High School marching band performed Christmas carols before and after the Twin City mayors wished the crowd merry Christmas and activated the 30,000 white lights adorning the 50-foot Norwegian spruce tree and the 25-foot Douglas fir.

Bristol Virginia Mayor Neal Osborne, who joked his holiday hat made him look like the “world’s biggest elf,” said the ceremony is an important tradition.

“This is one of those kinds of events that can bring the whole community together,” Osborne said. “It really brings into unison something we can all agree on — the holiday season. It’s a time for togetherness; it’s a time to celebrate Bristol and celebrate the reason for the season.”

The Twin City’s annual Christmas parade is scheduled to roll down State Street on Thursday at 7 p.m.

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