WEST HARTFORD — Kiley Sullivan thought her family would be having a quiet night at the Cheesecake Factory Thursday night.
The 6-year-old dressed in her favorite aqua and gold princess dress and headed to Blue Back Square with her family. When she learned she would be lighting the Christmas tree at the annual Holiday Stroll alongside Santa Claus, her father, James Sullivan, said she was shocked.
"She walked in [to Blue Back Square] and there was Santa," Sullivan said. "She was starstruck."
Kiley kicked off the Holiday Stroll after a battle with cancer left her too sick to attend last year. Her sister, Allie, lit the tree in her place, and helped Kiley light it Thursday night.
"This year is a happy moment, and we get to all do it together," Sullivan said. "We are left thinking of all our friends on the eighth floor of [the Connecticut Children's Medical Center]. It could just as easily be us."
Kiley is currently in remission after being diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, Sullivan said. Kiley said she was "amazed" to light the tree.
"I didn't think it would actually work," she said. "It was really fun, and I was a little nervous."
Multiple businesses opened their doors in Blue Back Square and West Hartford Center for the stroll. In addition to the tree lighting, the stroll featured horse-drawn carriage rides, live Christmas music and free samples from restaurants.
Bentley Torres, Fleming's restaurant's private dining director, said she was blown away by the large turnout for the event. She said the restaurant sets up outside for the stroll every year.
This year, Torres said, she was handing out chocolate truffles and hot apple cider, which were "well received."
Resident Abiah Rule said it was her third time attending the stroll with her family. The store owners are always so happy to see everyone and it's nice to meet up with local families, she said.
"It's a great way to get in the spirit and get the whole community together," Rule said. "It's a festive, fun thing."