Mayor’s Message: The story behind the Christmas tree

Mayor Louis Manzo tells the story of how the 60-foot Christmas tree, a visual centerpiece of Lights on Main, had not long ago planned to be cut down.

Lights on Main has become our town’s signature event over the last several years and the 2019 version did not disappoint. Main Street is transformed into a living Hallmark Christmas card that infuses the holiday spirit in all who attend. Estimates this year put the crowd at nearly 10,000; wait until you see the aerial pictures we have! We are beyond proud. It was our vision to make our annual tree-lighting ceremony bigger in 2013 when we decided to close down Main Street and light the big tree again; but none of us could have envisioned what this event has become.

Clearly, our 60-foot live tree is the visual centerpiece of the event, so, I think it’s appropriate to recount the history of “saving the tree” here for all to enjoy. It actually happened twice! Only handful of people know the saga, so let this serve as the written history of the “original” saving.

Harrison has had a tree-lighting ceremony for decades, sponsored by the Historical Society. The Mayor would read a Christmas Story on the steps of Old Town Hall, some caroling occurred with hot chocolate and a visit with Santa inside the building to follow. A great event. By 2012, the ceremony included lighting a 10-foot cut Christmas tree placed at the site, since lighting the big tree had been suspended because of the associated cost and difficulty. And truthfully, the tree looked great when lit for the holidays, but it wasn’t in the greatest shape and some felt it looked a bit shabby the rest of the year.

We knew it would cost about $15,000 to buy new lights and evaluate the tree’s health, which wasn’t a budgetary option. So, the decision was made to cut the tree down and plant a new one that would grow with time. Within a few days, a small group of residents (led by one particular gentleman, who will remain anonymous) objected….vocally, LOL. To the point where we “stayed the execution” for two weeks, so they could attempt to raise the required funds. No one believed this could happen in such a short amount of time, but we promised to save the tree if we could light it again.

Time did prove to be too short, but not deterred, this stubborn leader of the resistance became the anonymous benefactor who wrote the check that saved the tree. Amazing! This Godsend quickly triggered conversation about making the tree-lighting a bigger event. What if we closed down Main Street? And had food vendors and a libation tent? Had great giveaways for the kids and brought Santa in on a fire truck? Would our residents like that? How many would come?

Well, the rest is history. The 2013 tree-lighting event became Lights on Main and about 1,200 people attended. We were floored! And excited. And look at us now. Thanks to all of you who have made it part of your holiday tradition. And special thanks to our stubborn, anonymous benefactor, who saved me from being known as the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.