The Chamber of Commerce’s Decemberfest tree lighting ceremony is a longstanding tradition in Pawling. A holiday mainstay for many residents, the evening features food, music, and the lighting of the Village Christmas Tree beside the Chamber of Commerce Building on Charles Colman Boulevard. This year, the event was in serious jeopardy of being cancelled due to financial constraints. However, thanks to a combined effort that brought the community together, Decemberfest was saved and allowed for a successful start to the holiday season in Pawling.
Mere weeks before the Decemberfest event was scheduled to take place, organizers found that the funds necessary to pay for the event were severely lacking. Without the money necessary to finance the cost of labor to hang the lights and decorations, the Chamber of Commerce, Merchants Committee, and local officials from the Town and Village of Pawling began a fundraising initiative that included a GoFundMe campaign to save Decemberfest.
The community responded quickly, with the fundraising effort netting more than $12,000, including an amazing contribution of $9,000 from Mindy and Randy Levine, as well as donations from PCSB Bank and more than twenty other donors. With money in place, and Decemberfest seemingly saved, organizers would soon encounter another problem.
Even though money had been secured, the tree lighting was still in jeopardy due to the lack of available labor to hang the lights on the Village Christmas Tree. “Before we received the additional money, we were on the verge of not having the tree lighting,” explains Chamber of Commerce President Peter Cris. “We need money to place the lights on the trees, that’s the cost of labor. Because we didn’t have funds earlier, we had to look at doing the celebration at a minimum.”
Although the event itself was still scheduled to go on as planned, Chamber of Commerce officials planned to only decorate the bandstand, Village Green, Chamber building, and the smaller spruce tree alongside. Without the availability of a contractor to hang the lights, the Village Christmas Tree would be dark on the evening of Decemberfest. At that point, members of the Pawling Merchants Committee stepped in.
On Thursday, December 5, little more than 24 hours before the Decemberfest celebration, the Village Christmas tree was bare. That afternoon, Mike Murphy, owner of Wired Up Electric, would receive a phone call. “At 3 o’clock, Ben (Christgau) called me and said he had a crazy idea,” explains Murphy. “He said we should hang the lights ourselves so that the kids can have a Christmas tree.”
Soon, members of the Pawling Merchants committee banded together, and with equipment from Wired Up Electric, began to hang the lights on the tree. The group included Mike Murphy and his wife Diana, Ben Christgau of Tap House Tavern, Jimmy Lowe of JPL Glass and Storefronts, Sean O’Connor of O’Connor’s Public House, Henry Schaber of Pawling Family Quick Stop, and Diana Tomassetti, Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce.
“Everyone stayed there until after 11 o’clock, and the next day we were ready to rock and roll,” says Mike Murphy. “It was a group effort. There was no way that we were going to let this fail. In the end, everyone felt good that we had such a good night for the community.”
On December 6, the Decemberfest celebration went on as planned, complete with the lighting of the Village Christmas Tree. Guests enjoyed musical performances from the Pawling High School band and chorus, as well as hot chocolate provided by Trinity-Pawling, soup from The Grand, and hot dogs from the Pawling Bible Club.
The night would end on a bittersweet note, as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies Sheriff Butch Anderson would announce that the Village Christmas tree will need to be removed next year due to its advanced age. While this announcement marked the end of an era for Decemberfest, it makes the efforts of the Merchants Committee all the more important as they allowed attendants to have one final year of the traditional tree being lit. Next year, organizers plan to use the smaller spruce tree beside the Chamber of Commerce Building for the tree lighting.
“There are a lot of people involved in Decemberfest,” says Peter Cris, “The schools, the Pawling Fire Department and Fire Police, Trinity-Pawling, the Chamber, and the Merchants. The event went well. The kids were happy, and we had a good crowd.” Ben Christgau echoed these sentiments, saying “it’s amazing to see how many people come together with the holiday spirit. Pawling is a special place.”