HOUSTON - Thousands counted down and braced for Houston’s holiday highlight in Uptown Houston Thursday night. Half a million lights brightened trees and rooftops before the jaw dropping fireworks display.

The Uptown Houston Lighting Ceremony welcomed thousands including one local family that celebrated through pain.

Somewhere among the Hilton hotel’s festive balconies, Melinda Gerukos shared something far more powerful with loved ones.

“John last year on that balcony said 'I hope this is a tradition that you will always continue without me,'” Gerukos said.

John Gerukos died in April but his legacy did not.

For the last 21 years, he and Melinda skipped Thanksgiving dinner. They chose instead to eat early in order to celebrate the countdown to Christmas in the Uptown.

At first, they stood on the street. Later, John scored a room with a view at the Hilton. Demand for such rooms is so great with guests booking a year in advance.

So, every year the Gerukos’ rent the same room and invited their kids and grandkids. They always watch the Dallas Cowboys game because John was a fan. They always decorate the balcony and enjoy the holiday the same way until now.

“This year is extra special, I think, for all of us because we get to help Melinda carry on the tradition even without John here and make sure she feels loved and supported,” said Melissa Nugent, Melinda and John's daughter.

Melinda felt just that. How could she not? It was exactly what her husband wanted and one of his final wishes now come true.

“I’ll continue to put one foot in front of the other and go forward with my family and friends,” Gerukos said.

Her family plans to continue the tradition. They have booked the same room for next year’s celebration.