Amid song and good cheer, the towering fir tree on Town Hall Green blazed to life Friday night during lighting ceremonies that heralded the "official" start of the Christmas season in town.

The festive mood was a marked change for the community, which has been struggling for weeks to recover from the devastation inflicted by Superstorm Sandy.

Organized by Ginna Paules, program coordinator in the town's Parks & Recreation Department, with help from the Fire, Police and Public Works departments and Youth Council volunteers, the lighting of the 90-foot-tall Norway spruce donated nearly nine decades ago by the Daughters of the American Revolution proved to be a fitting event to boost holiday spirits.

Festivities included holiday musical favorites performed by choirs from all three of Fairfield's middle schools, the Fairfield Warde High School Chorale, as well as glo-lites distributed to kids, steaming cups of hot cocoa and, of course, the arrival of Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and friends atop the Fire Department's Ladder 1 truck.

Distinguishing this year's tree-lighting ceremony, however, were the sobering reminders of the storm still on the historic green, as well the uplifting community spirit of three people selected to help throw the switch.

At least three 100-year-old trees were felled on Town Hall Green during Sandy's assault Oct. 29. For days after the storm's attack, the trees lay where they had fallen as cleanup and recovery in more critically damaged sections of town took place. Finally, they were removed, though tree crews left behind their massive trunks, each marked by a big white "X."

Nominated to help light the Christmas tree, via votes cast through the town's website, were three women whose idea to help clean up the Fairfield Beach area in the wake of the storm mobilized more than 1,000 people to fan out Nov. 11 across shoreline streets to help stricken neighbors. Besides lighting the tree, the trio -- Lindsay Riley Morton, Katie Boland and Kelly Niznansky -- were honored with citations for their initiative by state Rep. Tony Hwang.

"I get so choked up," Paules said later. "It's wonderful when Santa comes by on the fire engine. This is an old-fashioned good time, complete with carol singing. A real family event."

First Selectman Michael Tetreau, who welcomed the crowd and led the countdown for the tree lighting, concluded, "With everything we've been through, it's so great to see everyone come out and celebrate. We need this Christmas more than most years. Just make sure Santa knows everyone in Fairfield has been very good this year."

Making the start of the season especially festive was the opening of the Holiday Express Train Show at the nearby Fairfield Museum and History Center, as well as the annual Fairfield Christmas Tree Festival dazzling visitors throughout the weekend at the historic Burr Homestead.