BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG
As Homer holiday traditions go, some have endured for decades, like the Nutcracker Ballet or the Share the Spirit Spaghetti Feed. Other traditions have sputtered and started, though, like the annual lighting of the community Christmas tree.
Make that “trees.” Not counting cut trees, Homer has decorated at least two big live spruce trees designated as community Christmas trees. At 5 p.m. Friday, for the third annual Christmas tree lighting, Santa Claus flips the switch on Homer’s latest community tree at the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center. The evening starts at 4 p.m. with refreshments and a chance to meet Santa. The Homer High School Swing Choir also sings.
That event might say “third,” but the lighting of a community tree goes back to at least 1996 when a tree was lit in WKFL Park.
“I am writing to applaud the efforts of the many who made the first annual lighting of the community Christmas tree a great success,” former chamber executive director Derotha Ferraro wrote in a letter to the Homer News in December 1996. “Many people braved the coldest night of the year to welcome Santa and kick off a beautiful winter weekend.”
The tree lighting came about as a project of the Downtown Merchants Association, said Kate Mitchell, owner of NOMAR on Pioneer Avenue. The event also included a small parade with Santa Claus riding in a sleigh.
“It was the idea of bringing people downtown to enjoy Christmas and do their shopping,” Mitchell said.
Stores and businesses also were encouraged to hang white lights and keep them up until Winter Carnival to brighten the winter darkness, she said.
Mitchell said for years a cut tree would be put up at WKFL Park and decorated. Later, a large spruce tree was transplanted at the park next to a large boulder. Richard Gregoire said he remembered his father, Dickie Gregoire, as having moved the tree there from another lot. That tree was the one that got decorated in 1996. The city of Homer helped string and hang the lights. Featured on the tree was a large star provided by Hospice of Homer.
“The star represents our friends who aren’t here anymore,” Mitchell said. “Wish upon a star. I thought that was sweet.”
The tree lighting continued in 1997, but in 1998 the ceremony took a new twist, the decorating and lighting of the gazebo in WKFL Park.
“Organizers are giving the tree a break this year,” the Homer News reported.
That came about because Brother Asaiah had been concerned about stressing the spruce tree during the bark beetle outbreaks of the 1990s. In 2004, Mitchell helped revive stringing lights on the tree and decorating it.
“OK, the tree is good and healthy. Let’s try this again,” she said.
An article on the 2004 lighting said it was the first time in eight years the tree had been lit. The Homer Volunteer Fire Department opened its doors so people could have a warm place to gather. Santa came in a fire truck, Engine No. 1, a historic red Willys Jeep decorated in garlands and ornaments. The city again put up the lights, and Homer Electric Association donated power.
Somewhere over the years the WKFL tree lighting quit happening. In 2012, former chamber director Monte Davis revived the tradition. Davis told the Homer News that while the chamber did some landscaping work that summer, he “saw this gorgeous spruce tree in the back lot and thought the chamber needed to sponsor a tree lighting.”
That’s been the community tree’s home since then. Mitchell said she’s OK with there being a community tree at the chamber.
“Technically it’s a success in that there’s an organization doing it and promoting it as a yearly thing,” she said. “It was one of those traditions that moves around and we try to keep it alive.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at email@example.com.
Third Annual Christmas Tree Lighting
4-6 p.m. Friday
5 p.m. tree lighting
Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Information Center
With a visit from Santa Claus, hot cocoa and cider, s’mores over an open fire and music by the Homer Swing Choir
You and your family
For more info:
Call the chamber at 235-7740
“Technically it’s a success in that there’s an organization doing it and promoting it as a yearly thing.
It was one of those traditions that moves around and we try to keep it alive.”
— Kate Mitchell,
owner of NOMAR