Lemon Grove in 2017 has been celebrating its 40th birthday as an incorporated city, but the city has another milestone this year as well.
This December marks the 20th anniversary of its community bonfire in Civic Center Park, begun by former Mayor Mary Sessom.
This year’s bonfire on Friday, Dec. 1, will start at noon and end at 8 p.m., with the actual lighting of the fire by Mayor Racquel Vasquez scheduled for 6 p.m. at the park at 3200 Main St.
Until this year, the fire has been lit every year by Sessom, who stepped down last year after 22 years serving as a councilwoman or as mayor.
Sessom said she has fond memories of the early beginnings of the event that now draws 2,000 from Lemon Grove and neighboring communities.
“I had taken my family on vacation and had gone to a little town in New Mexico around Christmastime (in 1996) and they had a little tiny bonfire, and I said, ‘We could take this to California, let’s do it!’” Sessom recalled. “And the City Council loved it.”
Sessom said she remembers the very first Lemon Grove community bonfire with a small crowd of residents in the park under cloudy skies in 1997.
“We had just enough of a break in the weather to get bonfire lit, with about 200 people there, bless their heart,” she said.
Vasquez said it is “truly an honor to be part of the process of lighting the bonfire, and as I like to say, the torch has been passed forward.”
The event is starting several hours earlier this year to allow more people to try out the city’s first ice skating rink set up in the park.
Favorite bonfire festivities like live music and other performances, traditional hayride, a rock climbing wall, game booths, and an arts and crafts station will be at the park as well.