As the holiday season approaches, a longstanding Pawling tradition found itself in jeopardy. Every December, the Chamber of Commerce presents the annual Decemberfest celebration and Christmas tree lighting on Charles Coleman Blvd. The event serves to officially usher in the holiday season, but a downturn in donations to the Chamber placed this year’s festivities in serious doubt. However, officials and residents alike were quick to act, and the outpouring of support from the local community has ensured that there will be a Decemberfest in Pawling this year.
In past years, the Decemberfest celebration has been financed entirely through fundraising and donations to the Pawling Chamber of Commerce, and celebration received no direct financial support from the Town or Village. Following Decemberfest 2016, which drew almost 500 visitors, the Chamber Executive Board appealed to members for donations in a letter detailing the financial challenges of holding such a large event. The letter stated, “in an effort to reduce long-term costs (e.g. lighting, decorations) and maintain our ability to provide this important community event, the Executive Board decided to make the investment in LED lighting and wreaths/garland. While initially more expensive, it is expected that this investment will make the costs of tree lighting more manageable over the long term.”
In response, a total of $8,195 was collected following last year’s event. However, these donations represented a decline of nearly 50% from the pervious year. As a result, Chamber officials felt they would be unable to hold the event unless they could raise the remaining funds to complete the payment for the LED lighting, synthetic wreaths, and garland. Chamber Executive Board President Peter Cris further explained the situation: “It would be fiscally irresponsible of the Chamber to commit to spending money without the prospect of being able to pay our bills or find some additional financial support for the event.”
Determined to keep the tradition alive, Mr. Cris and members of the Chamber began the appeal for support throughout the community. What followed was a testament to the generosity and sense of community spirit that exists in Pawling. Mr. Cris appealed to both the Town and Village Boards, with both entities finding money within their budgets to contribute. Following a presentation to the Town Board on November 8 detailing the situation, members of the community began to donate on the spot. A particularly generous donation came immediately from lifelong Pawling resident and Town Supervisor-elect James Schmitt, who offered to pay for the cost of the Christmas tree. “That’s how I remember the Christmas tree lighting in Pawling, with the entire community coming together,” Mr. Schmitt said. “When I heard that there was the possibility of not having all the lights and the big tree lit up this year, it just seemed like it was the right thing to do to get the ball rolling.”
Local officials and residents throughout the Town and Village began the process of quickly seeking out donations to ensure that the festivities would happen. “I’m amazed and excited about the level of support that we received. Everyone I spoke to donated something. I’m so proud to be a part of this,” said Village Trustee Dan Peters, one of the people at the forefront of the fundraising effort.
Within a week, the Chamber of Commerce received enough money through donations to ensure that Decemberfest 2017 would go on as planned. The event will be held on Friday, December 1 at 6:00 p.m. outside the Chamber of Commerce Building on Charles Coleman Blvd. Along with the tree lighting led by Sheriff Adrian “Butch” Anderson, there will also be an appearance by the guest of honor, Santa Claus himself. The Pawling High School band will be performing, and peer leaders will help Santa and his elves distribute gifts inside the Chamber building. Students from Trinity-Pawling will be serving hot chocolate, and free hot dogs will be provided by the United Methodist Church.
The holidays are a special time in Pawling, proven by the support that helped to make this year’s Decemberfest a reality. The event, which only several weeks ago was in danger of being cancelled, now appears that it will be better than ever. “It’s a time to remember what this is all about. It’s a time for us to come together as a community,” said Mayor Robert Liffland. These ideas will no doubt be shared by everyone in attendance to watch the tree light up and bring in the holiday season. This year will be especially memorable for the generosity shown by the people of Pawling. As Peter Cris said, “It was like the ending of “It’s A Wonderful Life.”