READING, Pa. — As many gathered around the Christmas tree and the menorah on downtown Reading's Penn Square for the city's holiday lighting celebrations Thursday evening, the sentiment was that this year's event was especially joyous.

"We are really excited that we are getting to somewhat of a little bit of normalcy this year," said Reading Mayor Eddie Morán. "We are inviting the community to come out and celebrate with us in a dual celebration."

As Hanukkah comes to a close in a few days, the Jewish Federation of Reading lit the latest candle on the menorah before everyone moved across Fifth Street to the Christmas tree.

"Hanukkah is really a holiday of religious tolerance," said Carole Robinson of Sinking Spring, "so I think that's a great way to celebrate Hanukkah, with people that celebrate other holidays."

The return of the downtown holiday gatherings also served to show that, despite recent violence, the city is still moving forward to continue revitalization efforts, with Alvernia University's Reading CollegeTowne just a block away.

"A lot of great things are happening downtown in the city," Morán said. "We want to continue to invite those from the city to collaborate and socialize and create synergy."

The Reading High School choir wowed the crowd with its haunting yet hopeful rendition of "Carol of the Bells."

"It's amazing, honestly. It's really refreshing," said RHS senior Celeste Vega Richardson, "and I think it's really healthy for all of us to be here and doing something productive together."

With the menorah on one side of the street and the Christmas tree on the other, a common theme was unity — not just among different faith groups but for all people in the city, especially after not having the celebration last year.

"I've been raised in this city, and I believe that this city is a great place to live and a great place to work," said Bishop Robert Brookins. "We need to bless it — not curse it, but to bless it.

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