Community gathers for Holly Tree lighting
— For many county residents, the annual lighting of the Cecil County Holly Tree is more than a tree lighting, it’s a family tradition.
“(I came) because my grandmother brought me when I was a little girl,” said Thelma Ellwood, a North East resident who attended the lighting ceremony on Saturday. “She passed away and it’s just another place I feel close to her.”
Ellwood said the tradition of attending the event is also important to pass on to her 11-year-old daughter, Jenna.
“It’s important to bring my daughter here to keep these little traditions alive,” she said.
Originally dubbed The Traveler’s Tree in 1947, the Jackson Station Road Holly Tree was lit every year throughout December until the 1970s. Engineers for the Baltimore
firstname.lastname@example.org & Ohio Railroad would wear the leaves and berries from the tree on their lapels. Trains would stop so its riders could enjoy the stately tree.
After almost a decade of darkness, the tree was lit again in 1985 and has been decked out and celebrated every year since.
Before the 69th annual lighting on Saturday, a few words were said to honor Marshall Biddle, a member of the Susquehanna American Legion Post No. 135 in Perryville, who helped to raise funds to build the Holly Tree Corporation’s visitor center. He passed away last year. Ann Biddle, Marshall’s widow, was also given a certificate in honor of his efforts.
Trish Sexton, secretary/treasurer with the HTC, then surprised the Biddle family with the honor of counting down to the lighting.
A little before 6 p.m., the Biddles counted and the lights turned on.
For North East resident, Melissa Gonce, seeing the tree light up has become an integral part of the holiday season.
“It’s not Christmas without the Holly Tree,” she said.
Gonce has been coming to the event for the past 40 years.
“It has a lot of memories,” she explained. “When I was a kid, they used to have hot chocolate, cookies and little snacks. Santa used to give out candy canes.”
Gonce’s 9-year-old niece, Mackenzie, said she thought it was “cool” when the tree lit up.
“When they counted down, they surprised me when they turned it on,” she said.
MacKenzie said she thought the tree was “pretty” and her favorite color on the tree is blue because “it’s blue as the sky.”
“It was exciting because I got to see her face light up,” Melissa Gonce said.
Before the lighting, two members of Girl Scout Troop 118 served as the honor guard while the Perryville High School Marching Band performed. The Rev. William Hawley and Don Hornberger, of the Susquehanna American Legion Post No. 135, also offered prayers.
There was also karaoke, with people able to perform Christmas songs.
After the lighting, Santa Claus made an appearance and took pictures with children in the train’s caboose located in the visitor center.
“It’s important to keep it going (the Holly Tree lighting),” Sexton said. “For people who have lived in the county, it’s always been a part of our Christmas. People around here have stories.”
The lights on the Cecil County Holly Tree include a multitude of colors.