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Christmas Preparations in Emmitsburg

Raymond Buchheister

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 square area.

Gingell said, "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."

According to 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 exceed ten.

The women 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 free."

Another 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.

The following 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.

Many others 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 the Emmitsburg?  
If so, send them to us at history@emmitsburg.net