During the Christmas season the quaint little
town of Emmitsburg takes on a special charm.
During Advent, a season of four weeks
prior to Christmas, people prepare their hearts
and homes. The heart of Emmitsburg also takes on
this transformation. Within the town limits the
long tradition of decorating continued this
year. On the second Saturday after Thanksgiving
the town garage was transformed into a flurry of
activity with the smell of fresh pine.
Approximately twenty individuals gathered to cut
and assemble live evergreens to adorn the
streets of the town.
Among a core
group of individuals who have been doing this
year after year were Ann Gingell and Chata Carr.
According to Gingell the town has always been
decorated but it wasnít until approximately
1973 or 1974 that the current tradition began.
Prior to that time the town utilized artificial
decorations. "Red Christmas trees"
several people recalled. Little by little these
artificial decorations began to disappear. Using
fresh greens was the idea of Jane Bollinger, a
town commissioner at the time.
Thus began the
current tradition of making "swags"
for the townís antique streetlights. The
tradition started in the home of Bollinger, who
is now deceased, where the women would meet to
assemble greens to decorate the light poles that
existed prior to the ones we see today. The
current tradition of making swags came in 1989
with the new antique-style streetlights. The
doors and windows are also decorated in the
"We basically started out in Jane Bollingerís
home here in Emmitsburg. Then after two years we
moved into the little room at the bottom of the
town office." Later on the town garage
became their workspace, which, Gingell added,
"was heaven for us." She continued,
"But we were sort of alone and didnít
have many people to help. Everyone thought it
was beautiful but nobody wanted to help."
Betty Ann Baker, another long-time helper, the
group makes 250 swags. When asked if she looked
forward to it each year she hesitated and
exclaimed, "Oh, yes!" with a giggle,
acknowledging itís a chore if they didnít
have a lot of help. She said, "If we have
the help, itís great." There has always
been a regular group of women since the
beginning, but it was rare that the number would
acknowledged that in the last five years or so
things have been much easier with help from
their husbands, other volunteers, and the town
maintenance crew. It takes about three or so
hours to do what it used to take the women
weeks. The group never knows who will show up to
help until that day. When Baker was asked if
they felt they had a good turnout this year she
said, "Very good, this is very good and we
have a number of guys outside helping."
Gingell also considered the turnout to be good,
saying, "Thereís a lot of new ones this
year, and those that have helped on and off over
the years." She said, "The lady that
gets the people out is Chata Carr."
One of the
newcomers this year was Pat Howes Bell. Bell is
the copy editor for the Emmitsburg Dispatch and
said she was editing an ad which invited people
to help when she was reminded of the event. She
said, "I always wanted to come but in the
past it has always been held the Saturday after
Thanksgiving," Bell said, "I think
this is an excellent choice to have it on this
weekend. This works out better because at
Thanksgiving people have company and just arenít
newcomer this year was Frankie Fields. Fields
was invited by Bea Keilholtz, another long-time
helper. When Fields was asked what she thought
of all this she said," I think itís
wonderful and the swags are beautiful. Itís
the neatest town." Fields and Keilholtz are
members of the Silver Fancy Garden Club, which
is responsible for planting the tree wells in
Emmitsburg in the spring. Fields said, "We
kind of keep up with the greens all year
round." She lives between Emmitsburg and
Taneytown, so she compares the decorations of
the two communities and said she prefers
Emmitsburgís real decorations to the
artificial wreaths in Taneytown.
Monday morning the town maintenance crew began
hanging the swags through town. Tuesday morning
Jim Click was supervising Charlie Maddox and
Chris Wantz. He said they have 96 streetlights,
which get two swags each, plus other places
where swags are hung. Charlie and Chris are both
new to the town crew, having begun their jobs
this past June. Charlie said he likes his job on
the crew despite its being cold some days.
The town crew
gathers the pines from the property of Dana
Shultz in Fairfield who provides them for the
town at no expense. The decorations certainly
add something special to what is already a
much-loved town. The efforts and perseverance of
these residents have brought about this current
tradition and deserve recognition.
have helped over the years. Some recalled the
late Mary Hoke; others mentioned their children
helping, and those that couldnít make it this
year because of conflicting events.
Those not named
are not forgotten in this beautiful tradition of
the town at Christmas.
Have your own memories of
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