Students from the Grand Avenue Choir sings holiday songs moments before Mayor Teresa Jacobs flicked the switch to light up Heritage Square. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

ORLANDO — If it wasn’t beginning to look at lot like Christmas in downtown Orlando on Wednesday, it’s amazing what the flick of a switch can do.
When Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs stood in front of the Orange County History Center last night, just as the sun had set and with the darkness obscuring everything but the lights in front of the museum, Jacobs was taking part in a time-honored tradition: to flick the switch that illuminates Heritage Park Square as part of the History Center’s annual Holiday at Heritage Square, a free event that has traditionally been the kickoff to the holiday season in downtown Orlando.
“I’ve been to this so many times, but this is the first time I’ve flicked the switch,” Jacobs said. “I’m hoping all goes well.”
As it turns out, it did, and the lights flashed brightly, illuminating the park that links the Wall Street Plaza on one side to the Orlando Public Library on the other, with the History Center in-between. A huge crowd turned out to see the holiday lights come on, giving downtown that home for the holidays look.
Around 6 p.m., students from the Grand Avenue Elementary School Choir performed Christmas songs for the crowd, and then Tom McAleavey, president of the History Center, kicked off the festivities.
“Please join me in giving the Grand Avenue Choir a big applause tonight,” he said. “Then join me in welcoming Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who will throw the switch to light up the History Center and Heritage Square to launch the start of the holiday season.”
The mayor had two major tasks to accomplish, and one, of course, was to throw that switch. It all went off without a hitch.

Wall Street Plaza joins in the look of the holiday season. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

“So now, it’s time,” she said, as the crowd gathered in front of the History Center. “Let’s light up the square.”
Jacobs’ second mission, also well in line with the holiday spirit and tradition of the season, was to announce that Orange County would hold its first ever Holiday Heroes Toy Drive, a campaign that encourages residents to bring new, unwrapped toys to participating drop off centers.
Looking at the children from the Grand Avenue Choir standing just a few feet away from her, Jacobs said it was obvious that they represent the most important part of this season.
“For me, the best part of this time of year is seeing the smiles on all these young faces,” she said, as she encouraged the community to contribute to the toy drive intended to benefit children who might not otherwise get a gift this year.
“Help be one of our amazing holiday heroes this year,” she said, noting that residents could help brighten the Christmas holiday for a child.
“These toys will go to non-profit agencies that assist children,” Jacobs said. “And we all know our children are our future.”
The drop off locations include all branches of the Orlando Federal Credit Union, the Orange County Recreation Center at Barnett Park, and all five Magic/Orange County recreation centers.
The toys, as the mayor noted, will be donated to local nonprofit agencies that include the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Central Florida, Community Food and Outreach Center, Catholic Charities of Orlando, Edgewood’s Children Ranch, Great Oaks Village and Orange County Youth and Family Services, and Love Orlando.
The Holiday Heroes Toy Drive is requesting toys that are new and appropriate for children up to the age of 18. Gift cards will also be accepted.
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