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Thousands cheered, sang, and danced with joy on Boston Common Thursday night as they celebrated the city’s official Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

Santa Claus, a snowman, and dozens of smiling children crowded around Mayor Martin J. Walsh as he flipped the switch to light the 45-foot white spruce tree with multi-colored lights.

White confetti sprinkled the common while green and red fireworks shot off around the tree. The crowd and performers joined to sing “Deck the Halls.”

Dolly Parton, country music superstar, made a surprise appearance to introduce cast members from her new musical “Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol,” which is showing at Emerson Colonial Theatre.

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“Hello Boston, Merry Christmas everybody,” Parton said, while waving to the crowd.

“I am very very proud to be in Boston, by the way and to be at this wonderful theatre, and just being here on this cold night - at least it’s not snowing,” the legendary country singer said. Parton said. “...I will see you later, and Happy Holidays to ya.”

Cast members of "Dolly Parton's Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol" reacted as Dolly Parton herself took the stage to the surprise of the crowd during part of the festivities at the 78th annual tree lighting event on Boston Common.
Cast members of "Dolly Parton's Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol" reacted as Dolly Parton herself took the stage to the surprise of the crowd during part of the festivities at the 78th annual tree lighting event on Boston Common. Jim Davis/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Walsh wished everyone “a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”

“I think my favorite holiday tradition right now is lighting Christmas trees in the city of Boston,” said Walsh, who will embark this weekend on the 16-stop Enchanted Trolley Tour & Tree Lighting across the city . “Took me a few years to get there, but I’m there now.”

The tree on Boston Common celebrates the city’s friendly neighbor to the north.

For the 48th year, Nova Scotia sent a Christmas tree to Boston to thank the city for its help after a munitions ship exploded in Halifax Harbor on Dec. 6, 1917. Within 24 hours, a train loaded with supplies and emergency personnel was making its way from Boston to the Canadian province.

“To our friends from Nova Scotia . . . thank you for being incredible friends and partners for many years,” Walsh said. “God Bless You.”

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Beatrice Pelley of Halifax returned the love.

“We love Boston,” Pelley shouted as the tree was lit. “I love Boston”

“Boston was there when we needed Boston the most,” said Pelley, who was attending her third tree lighting on the Common. “Now, we are here for Boston any time we can be.”

Thousands gathered for the festivities, which included musical performances.
Thousands gathered for the festivities, which included musical performances.Jim Davis/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Yurena Amado, who moved to Brockton from Cape Verde about seven years ago, basked in the glow of the festive ceremony.

“There is nothing like this at home,” Amado said. “We don’t have Christmas trees there. It’s a whole new world here, pretty much.”

Prior to the 8 p.m. tree lighting, the crowd sang along to various performers, including singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson, a native of Lexington, who sang “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). The Holy Tabernacle Church Choir of Dorchester chimed in with “Joy to the World.”

Nova Scotian alt-pop stars Neon Dreams, Nova Scotian R&B singer-songwriter Zamani also performed. Cast members from Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, the musical scheduled to open at the Boch Center on Dec. 17, sang and danced.

Police Commissioner William G. Gross was among the revelers. He danced and waved a small blue-and-white Nova Scotia flag on the sidelines.

Most in the crowd were bundled-up for the cold weather. But they showed their holiday spirit by wearing Christmas bulb headbands, Santa hats and glowing wreath necklaces.

Alison Barnes of Boston kept warm with a white beanie topped with a miniature plush bear wearing a Santa hat. “Dolly was amazing, and the fireworks were a really great surprise,” she said.

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“This is a new tradition,” Barnes said. “Hats and all.”

Members of a local dance group called "OrigiNation" performed at the 78th annual tree lighting event on Boston Common.
Members of a local dance group called "OrigiNation" performed at the 78th annual tree lighting event on Boston Common. Jim Davis/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Sofia Saric can be reached at sofia.saric@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sofia_saric.