Sponsored by the Perkasie Olde Towne Association, the traditional ceremony is the oldest of its kind in the United States, beating Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, D.C. by at least a year. Since 1909, Perkasie residents have gathered in the town square to celebrate the holiday season with an outdoor tree lighting ceremony that typically draws thousands of people.
“We’re proud of the fact that we’ve been doing this longer than any other community in the country,” said POTA President Joe Ferry. “It’s just another thing that makes Perkasie special.”
This year’s ceremony will feature several activities for the whole family, including a live performance by Mike Greer and Co. Most activities will take place under a huge heated tent next to the tree at 7th and Market streets. Starting at 5 p.m., visitors will find a wide variety of attractions leading up to the arrival of Santa Claus to light the tree at 7 p.m.
The belief that Perkasie began the tradition of a community Christmas Tree stems for a book published in 1954 to celebrate the borough’s 75th anniversary. Under the headline "Perkasie Firsts," the book says:
"From reliable information, one finds that the idea of a Community Christmas Tree, which is a feature of many towns and cities all over the United States, appears to have originated in Perkasie. The idea was formed in the minds of members of the Order of Owls and put into effect in Perkasie and Sellersville in 1909. In 1914, this feature was taken over by the Chamber of Commerce and is to this date a fixed event improved upon each year."
Colonial Williamsburg had its first community Christmas tree in 1915, according to www.history.org, the official site of Colonial Williamsburg. This was just three years after the first community Christmas tree was lit in Madison Square Park in New York City in 1912, according to www.madisonsquarepark.org.
The tradition also seems to have fallen by the wayside for some years in some communities after the start of World War I, only picking back up at a later date.
An article in the Community Christmas section, published Dec. 5, 2001, in the Perkasie News-Herald, explains the history of the first tree lighting through the words of Samuel R. Kramer, an early owner of the Perkasie Central News — the News-Herald's predecessor in the borough.
In the article, correspondence previously published in the paper from Kramer explains that he got the idea after visiting a neighbor to see their tree, which started him wondering why the beautifully decorated trees were hidden inside homes.
The tradition started the following year in 1909, and was improved with the erection of a large tree in 1910, in front of the J.G. Moyer Building, which once sat at Seventh and Market streets. The building was burned in the 1988 fire, but was on the same site as Shelly's sits today, where the current community Christmas Tree is planted.
This year’s schedule:
• 5 p.m. Children’s Activities
• 5:30 p.m. - Perkasie Mayor John Hollenbach Recites “The Night Before Christmas”
• 5:45 p.m. - Performance by the Pennridge School District Faculty and Staff Choir
• 6:30 p.m. – Mike Greer and Co.
• 7 p.m. - Tree Lighting
• 7:15 p.m. - More music by Mike Greer and Co.
Special Holiday Events
• All-Day Food and Shopping Specials
• FREE Perkasie Carousel Rides, noon - 5 p.m.
• FREE Old-Fashioned Horse and Carriage Rides, 5:30 p.m. - 8 p.m.
• Doug Kramer's Nostalgic Holiday Train Display at the Perkasie Electric Building (101 N. 7th Street), Friday from 5:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. and Saturday, noon - 8 p.m.
• Photos with Santa after the tree lighting at Re/Max440 (7th and Market)
Children who bring a non-perishable food item for Pennridge FISH will be entered in a drawing to help flip the switch to light the tree!
POTA’s popular Collectible Holiday Ornament is on sale at many area businesses. The 2011 ornament comes in three designs. They are $8 each, 2 for $15, $3 for $20. Buy early…supplies are limited!
For more information, call 215-257-4989 or visit www.perkasieoldetowne.org