Log In

Reset Password

Help Sought To Keep Newtown'sTree-Lighting Tradition Bright



Text Size

Help Sought To Keep Newtown’s

Tree-Lighting Tradition Bright

Fifteen years ago the Newtown Chamber of Commerce decided to begin an annual tradition of a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony despite warnings by many residents that it was bound to fail.

“There was a lot of skepticism at the time, because of vandalism,” Diana Johnson recalled. “The Chamber had participated in a townwide tree lighting, but that ceased by the early 80s because there had been so much vandalism.”

But Sam Eisenbach, who was president of the Chamber in 1985, was eager to try.

“He had come back from a trip to Germany and said why don’t we have a Christmas tree here,” said Mrs Johnson, who was then the chamber’s administrative assistant. Mr Eisenbach made the proposal to the chamber members several times without success.

“Sam finally said he talked to a woman at the library – Janet Woycik – and she said she’d help,” Mrs Johnson said. “Janet gathered more people to help and Sam did, too.”

 Besides Diana Johnson and Janet Woycik, the committee came to include an electrician, Stan Perrone; an arborist, Dan Dalton; Barbara Kasbarian of Newtown Parks & Recreation; and Mary Jane and Brian Healey.

“The Chamber didn’t want the event to be commercial, so choosing the right site was important,” Mrs Johnson said. “A perfect tree was located in the Ram Pasture, and the Newtown Cemetery Association granted permission for its use.” Then the problems started.

“The first year was such a fiasco it is amazing that the event ever took place at all,” Janet Woycik recalled.

“Lights were ordered which never arrived. New lights arrived via Tom Paternoster who had to drive all the way to Cambridge, Mass., to get them. However, the bulbs were not screwed in.”

“Our committee, becoming less and less merry by the minute, sat in the freezing cold, our fingers barely able to move, screwing in hundreds of bulbs.”

Dan Dalton arranged for a bucket-loader to hang the strings of lights; Stan Perrone installed the wiring needed to provide the power to illuminate them.

“The logistics of this event became apparent only as we moved along,” Janet Woycik said. “We needed lighting and safety precautions for our audience. Newtown Hook and Ladder and the ambulance corps volunteers to provide those services. The Bee really got behind the project, advertising the event extensively.”

Mrs Woycik said the committee worked on the theory of “build it and they will come!” But when the day of the lighting arrived, the worry set in. What if no one came? What if the switch was pulled and the tree didn’t light up?

“Thank goodness our worry was for naught,” she said. “The countdown began at 7 pm and when we all reached one, Sam Eisenbach pulled the switch. The tree shimmered with its hundreds of lights and through the oohs and ahs a single voice could be heard singing Silent Night. Everyone present joined in the singing and a special moment in the history of Newtown and the Chamber of Commerce had begun.”

A lovely side note to this new tradition happened shortly after the lighting, Mrs Woycik said. “We received a letter from the mother of a child buried in Hawley Cemetery across the street from the tree. She thanked us for allowing her family to celebrate the holidays with her child once again because of this tree shining near his grave.”

Two years after the first tree-lighting, Janet Woycik enlisted the help of the Newtown Tennis Association in getting people to distribute luminaria and to help screw new bulbs into the strings, a task which must be done each year.

“We started out with just a few luminaria on Main Street and a few lights along the pond, partly because the pond used to freeze and we were afraid kids would walk on the ice and fall in,” Diana Johnson said. “Now we have lights from the monument at the top of Main Street all the way to the Ram Pasture and all the way around it.”

Despite the early fears about vandalism, there has only been one serious instance in 15 years.  In 1991, the day after the tree was lit, the lights failed to go on. An investigation showed that someone had shot a bullet into the electrical box that controlled the lights. A few years before that, someone had pulled down some of the strings on the lower part of the tree.

Each year the celebration requires about 1,500 bulbs and about the same number of luminaria. This year new strings of lights also are needed, at a total cost of several thousand dollars, Mrs Johnson said.

This year, as the 15th annual tree lighting ceremony is being planned, the Chamber is inviting the community to join in the celebration in an especially meaningful way: by donating a bulb or luminaria in the name of someone they wish to honor. Mail-in coupons will be published in The Bee each week; the names of the donors and the persons that are honored will be published.

“The Christmas tree and luminaria project has been supported for 15 years by the Chamber of Commerce and donations from friends and businesses,” Diana Johnson said. “Now every citizen can feel personally involved by donating a bulb or candle and know that on that magical night the spirits or memories of loved ones are illuminated in this very special way.”

Comments are open. Be civil.

Leave a Reply